Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Marcy has a chronic condition that requires adherence to a self-care regimen that includes carefully watching her diet and activity levels, along with taking medications on a regular schedule. To say it’s not easy would be an understatement. In fact, it’s a rough road.
Sometimes, Marcy feels like the demands are too much. Like last week. She allowed herself to completely go off her diet at a family event. This seemed to start a chain reaction, and she continued to indulge herself for the two days that followed.
On day three, Marcy woke up feeling bad, physically and emotionally. She felt tired and sluggish, not herself at all. She knew this was the result of throwing her regimen out the window. And emotionally? She was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt. Marcy felt like she had let herself down, along with her loved ones, and her doctor, all of whom had been giving her encouragement and praise for the progress she had made.
Marcy walked around with all that guilt for a few days. She criticized herself with names like “lazy.” She kept to herself because she felt like she didn’t deserve support. She admitted that she even thought about not going back on her regimen, just giving up. “I felt so guilty,” Marcy admitted, “that I realized I was really getting down on myself. It was like I was falling into a downward spiral of self-defeat.”
Feeling trapped in your guilt? There’s a way out!
How about you? Do you find yourself getting stuck in the guilts and not knowing how to pull yourself out? Or wondering if you even deserve to? Here’s help:
You’re still human. In spite of our best intentions, we don’t always follow through on what we know we need to do. We’re all subject to temptation and sometimes we give in. I’m not saying that you should toss your self-care regimen to the wind whenever you feel like it, but I am saying that you’re human and humans aren’t perfect. Expecting yourself to be otherwise is setting yourself up to disappoint yourself. Along with feeling guilty when you do.
Look for the lesson. Rather than thinking only about what you did wrong, also consider what got in the way of doing right. Are you experiencing some burnout with your compliance routine? Are you making some demands on yourself that aren’t realistic and that may need to be modified in some way? Do you need more support, along with some friendly accountability to help you stay complaint? What I am saying here is that you may have slipped up as a result of a broader issue that needs your attention. If you stop beating up on yourself long enough to listen to your inner voice, you might find there is a valuable lesson to be learned and acted upon. And discussed with your doctor.
Use your guilty feelings to motivate you. You can take all that mental and emotional energy that goes into maintaining your guilty feelings and use it to energize yourself to do better in the future. In other words, acknowledge that you feel guilty, but don’t stay in that guilty place for long. Say something to yourself like, “Okay, I messed up. Guilty as charged. Now let’s work even harder to stay on the path.” And then work harder. Guilt—and avoidance of guilt—can be a great motivator.
Focus on the benefits of compliance. One of the reasons why my clients stray off the compliance path is that they do a lot of “awful-izing” about their self-care routine. Saying things like, “This is awful” and “I hate that.” When you set that dialogue up in your mind, then you are going to be more susceptible to temptation, if only to give yourself a break from what you have decided is torture. Awful-izing is a set-up for non-compliance. Instead, remind yourself—every day—of what your self-care regimen does for you, not to you. What is it getting you? Being able to maintain your job? To be an active parent? To do things you enjoy? Not so awful at all, right?
Get back on the horse. Okay, so you messed up. You weren’t compliant for a day, or two, or three. You’ve acknowledged you made a mistake. You’ve learned from the experience. You’re sorry you disappointed yourself. Enough. Now, let’s move forward again. Start by getting back up on the horse.
You, your regimen, and guilt. What’s all that guilt getting you? If you stray from the compliance path, guilty feelings can leave you stuck at a time when you could be putting your energy into moving forward. So how about this? Acknowledge you could have done better. Learn from the experience. Get your self-care regimen back in gear. And then, repeat as necessary.
What helps you deal with guilt? Add a comment below and help others in our community by sharing your advice.