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Are You Guilty of Feeling Guilty?

Tis the holiday season, a time for family, friends, and festive celebrations! And, for many of us, a time for guilt. Whether it’s slipping on your diet, stressing about the perfect gifts, or trying to fit in one more thing at work, if you’re not careful, guilt can become a constant companion. What steps can you take to eliminate it from your life?

Let’s step back a moment and explore the roots of guilt. Guilt is not an emotion – it’s a learned response or behavior. Think about it. Emotions have opposites: joy/sadness, exhilaration/fear, etc. The opposite of guilt is more guilt. Every time you let it in, it creates a downward slippery slope.

Falling into the Guilt Trips and Traps

A guilt trip is the opposite of a family vacation, it’s a family hostage situation…that’s why it’s called a trip, not a vacation! Now, in all seriousness, when you feel guilty, chances are that you’ll end up doing something you don’t really have time or energy to do, which in turn only makes you feel worse and at times, takes others down with you. Sometimes, the easy way out just seems, well, easier. You think to yourself “I don’t really want to say yes to this request, but if I say no, I’ll let someone down.” Sound familiar?

The habit of giving and receiving guilt is hard to break, but there is no time like the present to Stop Settling ®. Frankly, guilt goes hand-in-hand with manipulation. Intentional or not, guilt provides a means to an end. When you give in – whether it’s buying your kid one more toy or taking on a work project that’s beneath your skill level – you give up energy and positive power. Over the long-term, that undermines your credibility and your self-worth.

Careful Self-Examination

Take a look at the flip side too: do you use guilt to get what you want? As a manager, it can be tempting to resort to using the “do it for the team” or “just help me out this one time” approach. The danger lies in setting off a chain effect of negative repercussions. Of course we all have to perform tasks that are “not my job” from time to time, but if it becomes a trend, you’re more likely to generate passive-aggressive behavior than a thoughtful work product.

You have Options

Guilt has an insidious way of becoming pervasive. If you frequently find yourself feeling guilty (or using it to get what you want), it can emerge as your default mode for both personal and professional interactions. Reducing it opens up all kinds of space to connect, collaborate, and grow. Here are two strategies to help you out.

1. “Fact vs. Fiction”

I use this approach with my coaching clients to help them recognize their own tendencies. When a situation is emotionally charged, it can be hard to separate out what is real and what is not. We literally make a fact vs. fiction list.

For example, let’s say you didn’t receive an expected promotion. It may be a fact that you have worked in your role longer than others who have been promoted. But it is probably fiction that your boss has it out for you… maybe you are not capable of seeing yourself as others do.

You could use guilt to put pressure on your company: “You know I’ve worked here longer and harder than the last person who was promoted.” But by separating fact from fiction, you’re now in a better position to ask the right questions that will help you along your long-term career path, e.g., “What tactical improvements or course corrections do I need to make to prove that I’m ready for the next step?”

2. Stop and Ask

When someone puts you in a situation where you’re feeling guilty, you don’t have to choose a binary “yes/no” response. It’s OK to be honest and say that you need more time before you commit or to dig deeper to understand where the other person is coming from.

Breaking the guilt cycle is akin to building a muscle; it’s going to take time and it might hurt a bit. Let’s face it, it can be uncomfortable to take a stand. But those inner voices that make you feel guilty are telling you, “Pay attention!” Those are the signs that you’re ready to benefit from a stronger “just say no to guilt” muscle.

The No Guilt Challenge

For 30 days, please join me in taking the No Guilt challenge. Become hyper aware of when you feel guilty, or when you might be making others feel guilty. Awareness is a critical first step to minimizing the vicious cycle that a guilt-based operating system creates.

I’m confident you can do it!!

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