The Guilt Monster
There is one thing that empty nesters seem to have in common; guilt. Caring for aging parents, needs of grown children, and the desire to play an important role in the lives of our grandchildren all feed the Guilt Monster.
He suggests that we might not have enough for retirement, and then turns around and tell us that we can’t handle the stresses of work. In the dark, we stare at the ceiling wishing we would have written that letter, contacted a close friend that we haven’t talked to in weeks, or refrained from making that mean-spirited comment.
In my family, I have been known as the queen of guilt. My parents have always teased me about my excessive apologies. I would share with them about not being able to make this event or that occasion only to hear them say, “That’s fine. As long as you feel guilty about it.” And then they would laugh out loud, recognizing that much of the time I was feeling bad about something that was entirely out of my control; my guilty feelings were ridiculous.
That being said, guilt can have a positive impact on us if we deal with it the right way. The true purpose of guilt is to help us to recognize when we have done or said something wrong; it prompts us to learn from our mistakes. In that way, guilt can actually be a “good thing.” It’s when we let the feelings of guilt get out of control and cripple us that it is a negative thing. Sometimes our feelings of guilt are completely irrational, and can actually stifle our ability to live life to the fullest.
I’m still fighting my Guilt Monster, but here are a few offensive moves I’ve learned to get the upper hand on him:
- Ask forgiveness. If you truly feel guilty about something that you have said or done that has caused hurt to another person, tell them that you are sorry and ask their forgiveness. Sometimes it is a matter of the heart, and you may feel the need to simply ask God for forgiveness. It is the first step in making things right in many situations.
- Change your behavior. If you are feeling guilty about a certain behavior that you are dealing with, do your best to change it. The feelings of guilt won’t go away if you continue the behavior and don’t attempt to stop it. Each day is a new beginning; if you fail one day, try again the next.
- Let go of irrational guilt. Sometimes you will realize that you are feeling guilty over something that you have absolutely no control over. This type of guilt has no positive impact on your life.
- Deal with it and move ahead. Once you have asked forgiveness or changed your behavior, do your best to put it behind you and move forward. So many times we go over and over something in our minds, when we would be so much better off to just drop it.
- Recognize it for what it is. Think of guilt as a sort of “good conscience,” reminding you to continually try to be a better person tomorrow than you were today.
If you can tame the Guilt Monster…He’s not so scary any more.