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Guilt is poison. Having extraneous guilt can wear you down, cause you to project your problems onto others, leave you drained and hopeless, and can lead to depression and ridiculous amounts of anxiety. Having a conscience is healthy; we all need to know the difference between right and wrong, to take responsibility for our actions, to own up to our mistakes when we make them and to do our part to avoid making them in the future.
But holding on to excessive guilt is really poisonous and not worth our time, emotional or physical energy. You need to know what to do to be responsible and sometimes it's hard to tell what that is. Sometimes therapy can help you determine how much you are doing or not doing, whether it is enough or not.
In relationships, and at work, as parents and as family members, these lines are unclear at best. Children, bosses, spouses, lovers and even friends can take advantage of our good nature, or perhaps you are someone who at times takes advantage of others. Either way, we can end up feeling we've not done enough even when we have. Our children can also use our guilt as a weapon to make us feel we are not loving them enough, not spending enough time with them, not giving them enough. Sometimes they are calling out for real attention and sometimes they're just being manipulative! Being able to tell the difference with our children and with everyone else in our lives is crucial.
Living a wholesome, productive life can help with the reduction of guilt. If you are not using or abusing substances, being unfaithful to your partner, lying at work, cheating at school, or actively neglecting or abusing your children, chances are you're not living in a way that warrants a whole lot of guilt. Eliminating the drama can really go a long way toward helping you create healthy boundaries in your life and see clearly where you may need to try just a bit harder and where you may really need to let go of the guilt and move on.
Aimee Boyle lives, writes and teaches in CT. She is a regular contributor to EmpowHER.