Do you feel guilty about your life choices or about something that happened in the past?
As humans we don’t walk on water. We are bound to do things we feel guilty about. Yet guilt is not really a useful emotion… It’s not like excitement, motivation or joy. Guilt not only does not feel good, it often makes us do things we later judge ourselves for. Eating that extra piece of pizza, having that extra beer or wine, watching TV instead of cleaning up the house, not calling a friend you think you’ve hurt… Even if you don’t think about it all the time, if you did something you still judge yourself very heavily for, that will influence your sense of self confidence and self worth.
In this episode I share with you the basics. Where guilt comes from, why are you feeling it in the first place… and what to do to move through it.
Hi everyone this is Ewelina, Life Coach for Immigrants and today we are going to talk about guilt.
If you are an immigrant this could be an emotion you are very familiar with. Many of my clients experience it, and so do I. And we have a lot to cover so we are going to jump right into it.
Let’s start from the basics. What is guilt? It’s a feeling, right? What is a feeling? It’s a vibration that you feel within your body.
For some of you guilt feels like a dark mass sitting around the chest area. For others it might be a slow moving pressure around your shoulders. Some might feel it deep in their belly… it might be a dark slow moving ball that’s shifting from left to right.
We all experience it a bit differently. Alright so what creates guilt? What creates feelings? Your thoughts. Thoughts that you have about a specific circumstance, specific situation, specific person, an event from the past, your current situation.That’s what creates the feeling of guilt.
You might be feeling guilty because you left your parents, your siblings and the rest of your family in your country of origin.
Maybe one of your parents died, and you didn’t get to go to the funeral for various reasons.
Maybe it was another family member, but since you believe you should have been there for their funeral you might be really beating yourself up for not attending.
Maybe you feel guilty because as an immigrant you have not been able to find a job that would allow your wife to stay home and raise your kids, so you feel guilty because you think you should be a better provider.
Maybe one of your family members was going through a very tough time and you were not there to support them, and today you think that you are a bad person for not being there for them.
Maybe you feel guilty because your life is really good, but you know other people living in your country of origin did not have the opportunities you had and you feel guilty for having the financial abundance and enjoying it.
Maybe you have said something really mean to someone when you were a kid, and you still remember that person’s reaction, and you know that you have crushed their spirit, and you still carry the guilt around.
Maybe you are a refugee, maybe you’ve escaped war but others didn’t and they died. You might be dealing with survivor’s guilt. Maybe you feel like you could have done something to prevent the deaths of the people you’ve lost, or maybe you just think that you shouldn’t even be here right now because the ones who died deserved to live more than you did.
There are so many different reasons why we might be feeling guilty, overall we typically feel it because we think we have done something wrong. No matter what might be your reason for feeling guilty, keep on listening, because today I will simplify it so that it’s easy for you to understand what is actually happening, why are you feeling the guilt.
So guilt is a feeling, right? What creates feelings? Your thoughts are what is creating your feeling of guilt. Your thoughts create other feelings too but if you wanna know why you feel guilty about something you first need to look at your thoughts, and the best way to do that is by simply writing out what are you thinking about this one specific circumstance you have guilt around.
So if you feel guilty because your dad died and you couldn’t fly to the funeral, what do you think about this situation specifically? What are you saying to yourself about it?
Maybe it’s something like:
“I should have been there.
I am a bad daughter for not making it there on time.
I should have never left my country.
I should have stayed and helped him when he was sick.
I am a selfish person for moving away.
I should have tried to make it work and I will never forgive myself for it.”
So these kinds of thoughts would create a feeling of guilt and regret, maybe sandnes, right?
When you write it out you can see exactly where that emotion is coming from.
This also explains why even with the feeling of guilt you are still able to live your life. Even if you feel really guilty about something. You are not thinking about it all of the time. It might kind of feel like you are thinking about it a lot but to live your life you have to be able to think about other things. You are gonna have thoughts about other things, not just your guilt. So from time to time, some of you more often than others will have these thoughts about a very specific situation in your life, and these thoughts will create a feeling of guilt. You might be thinking:
“I should have never done this.
I can’t believe I did this.
Everyone knows that I am a bad person.”
And again these kinds of thoughts will create that feeling.
If you want to understand yourself better, and get a grip on it: the first step would be to write down your thoughts. What is it that you are thinking about it? And then the next step is gonna be exploring how this affects your life. For example, when you feel guilty because you have not gone to your dad’s funeral, what do you do? How is that affecting your life?
Your feelings cause action. So what is that feeling of guilt causing you to do?
It could be that from time to time you think about it and you are beating yourself up for it, and the more you beat yourself up for it the worse you feel. You are not enjoying your life, you feel bad, and because you feel bad you might be having that extra glass of wine, or a few extra pieces of pizza, or maybe you are procrastinating more and watching more tv and not doing the things you want to be doing for your business, or at your home… We all react a bit differently, but overall guilt is one of those emotions that often will paralyze us to some degree or will cause us to make the choices that majority of the time lead to some negative consequences.
This is why it’s important to explore it.
Because at the end of the day what is the upside to feeling guilty?
So let’s say that your dad passed away a few years ago but you couldn’t leave the country you moved to because it would have been nearly impossible for you to get back. This could be simply related to visa problems. So your dad died, you didn’t go and ever since that happened you feel very guilty about it. You also feel like a really bad person. You’ve failed your mom and your siblings, and everyone back home thinks that you are incredibly selfish, and they can not believe that you did something so horrible, so now you are beating yourself up for it everyday. You’ve noticed that you have been feeling low, but you kinda don’t know exactly why… Why is it that when friends invite you out you don’t always feel like going and having fun. You tend to spend a lot of time alone. Maybe you have two glasses of wine in the evening when you used to have just one. You are not happy, or motivated at work, and overall your quality of life is not what it used to be. On the outside things look normal, but deep inside you carry this guilt around and you think about it every day.
The guilt is causing you to behave this way. To not do the things that you used to do, to be beating yourself up for what you have done or the fact that you didn’t go to the funeral. That is what is unfolding as the next step, but the truth is this.
Your dad passed. There is nothing you can do about it.
Our loved ones die. We will die one day. We don’t know when. We all are counting on living long, but who knows when the end is gonna actually happen.
I could die tomorrow while driving grocery shopping. You could die tonight, we simply don’t know. But life is 50/50. And half of it is good, and half is bad and death is part of it.
Now, you are a complex human being. You can think all different kinds of thoughts that will cause all different kinds of emotions, that will lead you to be doing different things, good things and bad things. Now, we often expect ourselves to always make the right decisions, always do the right thing, and when we don’t we beat ourselves up for it. The truth is: yes sometimes you are selfish, and me too, sometimes I am selfish too. And sometimes you are angry and you might say things that will cause others to have thoughts that will create hurtful feelings.
I am gonna say this again slower cause it sounds kinda complicated but it’s really important. It’s not that complicated. This is what I just said: You might say things that will cause others to have thoughts that will create hurtful feelings.
You have your thoughts that create your feelings.
Others have their thoughts that create their feelings. The only reason why your siblings might feel disappointed or angry about you not being at your fathers funeral is because of what they are thinking about it. Or if your mom is angry at you because you are living across the world and not next door to her, it is because of what she is thinking about it. Not because of what you did.
She can be thinking: Oh my gosh my little girl is living her dream life, I am so happy for her. Yes she is away but I have so many amazing people around me. Family and friends. I am loved and I am supported. If she was thinking this, this would create feelings of acceptance and appreciation, right?
But she could also be thinking: I can’t believe she moved so far away. I did everything for her and she left me here all alone. It’s all her fault.
Now, these kinds of thoughts would cause her to feel sad, lonely, frustrated right? But she would be feeling this because of what she is thinking, not because you have moved.
You can not cause other people to feel feelings. Their thoughts create their feelings. Just like your thoughts create yours. So first and foremost, please fire yourself from that responsibility. It is not your job to make someone feel happy or loved or appreciated. You can not control other people’s minds, and you can not control their feelings.
What you can control is what you are thinking, and feeling, and how you are behaving.
And since your thoughts create your feelings, you can create all different kinds of emotions.
You can create acceptance, aggression, courage, trust, doubt, humiliation, gladness, self criticism, loneliness, worry, sense of responsibility, or satisfaction, self hatred, vulnerability and many more.
Why is that? Why can we create all these emotions? Because your brain can come up with all different kinds of thoughts. Listen, I like to think about guilt as kind of one of those emotions that is like a red flag, if I am feeling guilty about something I need to pay attention. I need to pay attention to my thoughts. What’s really happening in my brain? Why am I feeling this emotion?
And guilt will most of the time 99% of the time will show you where your lower brain is running the show. So let me explain this piece.
So guilt is created by your thoughts about something, or someone, circumstance, situation about yourself, that’s what is creating the guilt, it’s your thoughts about something. And what is creating your thoughts? It’s your brain, right? Brain delivers thoughts. Now I am gonna simplify this really terribly, cause you are just listening to a podcast… I am gonna make it very, very simple and easy to understand.
I wanna tell you right now about two main areas that deliver thoughts. Your lower brain and your higher brain, also called prefrontal cortex.
Majority of the thoughts you have come from your lower brain. The lower brain’s job is to keep you surviving in this reality. I like to think of the lower brain as a scanner. It scans your reality very fast, 5 cycles per second looking for what is wrong in your world. It does this to warn you.
But as it’s scanning it’s focusing on the negative. Remember the world is 50/50 half is good half is bad. But by default the majority of the thoughts will be coming from that part that only looks at the negative. Do you see why it’s so hard to just be happy and positive in life? That’s one of the reasons. But I have some good news, you also have a prefrontal cortex, this is the part of the brain where you can analyze and you can plan and you can dream. This part of the brain uses a lot of extra energy so again by default it’s not gonna be the first area where the thoughts are gonna be coming from because, your brain is all about sufficiency about not using a lot of energy and just keeping you surviving in this reality.
So when I say to you, to explore why you are feeling guilty you are gonna have to write down what you are thinking about the situation, and I am suggesting here that you write down what is most likely coming from your lower brain. The negative thoughts causing guilt will be right in front of you, on a piece of paper and you can analyze them with the prefrontal cortex. And you can understand yourself, right? You can see why you have been feeling low, why have you been beating yourself up? It’s gonna be way easier to understand yourself.
Now since you have that higher brain, the prefrontal cortex you can also decide what you want to be thinking about it. Because again, what is an upside to feeling guilty? Not much unless you use guilt as a warning. So the guilt comes up, you explore it and then you decide on purpose what you want to be thinking about it, you take action for yourself because guilt, like i’ve explored it before is just gonna make you feel low about yourself you will be criticizing yourself. That will be affecting how you show up in your life, how you show up in your days. There is no upside realy to it, other than like I said: It’s a warning. So when it comes, explore it and then choose what it is that you want to be thinking about the situation instead. Cause you can decide if you want to be beating yourself up for whatever it is that has happened or not. You can accept that you are a human being, with a human brain, a human that will make choices that sometimes affect others in a negative way. So you are a human, you are not perfect and that’s okay. YOu are not Jesus walking on water. Do not expect yourself to be Jesus walking on water. Please do not expect yourself to be Jesus walking on water. Like, seriously. You are you. And that’s okay.
Sometimes part of the work is that we literally have to decide to give ourselves space to be selfish, and angry, and judgemental, and frustrated, and condescending, and hurtful, and impatient. And accept that we have done those things that we have done and we have been frustrated, condescending and hurtful and angry and selfish and that’s alright. Because you are a human, as a human you are gonna feel these emotions from time to time and that’s okay. It’s literally just part of the experience. So first of all I suggest that whatever has happened in the past that might be causing your feelings of guilt, I wanna suggest that you simply accept it. Accept it, say to yourself:
“I didn’t go to my dad’s funeral. I couldn’t go, and that’s okay. Nothing I can do about it now. It’s in the past.”
Or if you are beating yourself up because you as an immigrant live very far away from your loved ones, and you feel guilty about it, same thing, I wanna invite you to accept it.
“I moved far away from my family and I can’t be there with them all the time, and that’s okay.”
That could be one of the thoughts.
Because this is your life situation, this is where you are at. Accept it. Accepting will feel more peaceful, like we are not arguing with life. We are not arguing with the things we can not change.
If it is a situation that you are currently in, what can you change? What can you influence?
Can you go visit your family? Can you decide how much time you spend with them and what do you do during that time? If building family connections is important you can decide ahead of time how you will be spending your time to build these deeper relationships. Cause we all know that you can be in the same room with someone and worlds apart, and you can also talk to someone on zoom, or facebook messenger or skype and be present with them, hear what they are telling you, connect with them in this deeper, human way.
If you can’t support your mom in person on a daily basis? Okay, but what can you do for her? Maybe it’s gonna be an hour phone call twice a week? Always at the time, same day so you both can plan on it.
You can decide ahead of time that you are going to be patient, and loving and understanding when you are talking to her, because you love her so much and you want to show up from that place. There are a lot of things that you can actually decide ahead of time. You can decide how you show up, what you think about your loved ones. What you think about yourself in these relationships. And when you decide ahead of time and act from that place what you are doing is you are using your prefrontal cortex. You are not just going with the automatic negative first thought that shows up in your head from the lower brain, you are actually deciding for yourself on purpose. So whom do you want to be in relationships with other people? If you feel guilty about the situation from the past because you have hurt someone and you know, because you have seen their reaction to your words, what do you wanna do? What do you wanna think about yourself in the situation, what do you wanna think about that other person today, and just exploring what is the upside to me beating myself up? And what is the upside to acceptance? When we start accepting things, we feel different. We feel more at peace. And when we feel more at peace we show up differently in our relationships on a daily basis. We show up differently at work, we show up differently in our day, we don’t have this heaviness that we are carrying around. So I want to invite you into acceptance and I also want to invite you into deciding on purpose how you want to show up ahead of time. How you want to be building these relationships, even if someone is far away, it does not matter that much. They can still feel your love and support
And at the end of this I do wanna tell you that if this is confusing and you are having a hard time applying it to your life, I can help you. You can hire me to help you figure this out. I am a life coach. This is what I do. Right now, I have a few openings in my 1/1 practice. So if you need a life coach, just go to my website which is lifecoachforimmigrants.com, schedule a free consultation with me. You will tell me then what’s going on in your life and if I can help I will explain how I would do that. I want to be of service to you so reach out to me if you need help figuring out why do you feel guilty, why do you feel low? Alright my friends, thank you for listening as you can see this podcast is newer, I don’t have a lot of episodes but I do wanna invite you to please rate it for me, that would really make a big difference. Leave a review if you can, take a moment to do this, especially if this information that I shared with you today was helpful. Alright my friends! Have a wonderful rest of your day and I will talk to you next time. Bye,