The decisions you make should reflect what's best for you, but guilt has a sneaky way of making that easier said than done. "Guilt is a useless emotion which depletes our energy and keeps us standing still," explains Dr. Tami Kulbatski, a Toronto-based psychologist, registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
Getting to know guilt
Dr. Kulbatski explains that guilt can arise in a number of situations.
• Not living up to the expectations of others
• Not living up to our own expectations
• Choosing to stay in a bad situation, such as a relationship or job that isn't working, when the thought of change causes too much anxiety or psychological discomfort
• Placing the well-being of others above your own when you are clearly in an uncomfortable or negative position
• Making decisions that have no clear-cut "right" outcome, such as being a working mom or stay-at-home mom
Some consequences of making decisions based on guilt include:
• Low self-esteem
• Anger (towards yourself or others)
• Neglecting your dreams or goals
• Shame and self-loathing
Here are five ways to put guilt aside when making a decision:
1. Don't let others push you into a decision
Making decisions can be hard enough. The process is even harder when you have outside pressures. Trying to make a tough choice? Ask yourself if you feel you are being coerced into the decision, says Dr. Kulbatski. She suggests looking for 'should' and 'must' statements from others.
If someone else is involved in the process of helping you make a decision, watch out for phrases such as "You should" or "You should have," Dr. Kulbatski explains. These phrases will signal to you when somebody is attempting to impose their values or expectations on you. Often times those phrases are used as forms of manipulation and control, she says.
Page 1 of 2 -- On page 2, learn how to overcome your guilt and make decisions freely.
2. Once you've made a choice, stick to it
When you are facing a difficult decision try to recognize that you have choice. Even if you are under pressure from a boss, friend or family member, the decision is ultimately yours.
Once you've made your choice, accept responsibility for any potential consequences of that choice, Dr. Kulbatski says. "This can be very empowering. Ultimately, accepting responsibility for the outcome, good or bad, can prevent you from expending energy in a useless or unproductive manner." It can be so easy to allow feelings of guilt to undermine a decision, but this will only make you feel worse.
Understand that holding on to guilt after a decision is made is also a choice, Dr. Kulbatski explains. "You can either choose to fix what is fixable or you can choose to move on. But when you choose to hold on to guilt, you perpetuate a form of psychological paralysis."
3. Avoid making decisions based on the expectations of others
Dr. Kulbatski suggests asking yourself if the decision you are about to make is based on expectations. If the answer is yes, identify whose expectations you're trying to meet. Are your parents pressuring you to give them a grandchild? Does your boss want you to take on more work than you have time for?
If these expectations aren't inline with what you want or are able to do, recognize that by giving in to the expectations of others, you could be setting yourself up for failure, disappointment or even more guilt.
4. Don't try to be a martyr
You need to put yourself first. This can often be hard for people who are giving or selfless by nature. But in the long run, making a choice that puts someone or something before your own needs may breed resentment and disappointment.
When you are trying to make a decision, ask yourself if you are choosing to suffer or give something up for the benefit of someone else. If the answer is yes, take some time to rethink your priorities and what will be best for you.
5. Realize some decisions won't be right and accept it
Unfortunately, no one is perfect and there will be times when decisions won't pan out like we’d hoped. "Practice demonstrating the courage to be imperfect," Dr. Kulbatski says. "Allow yourself to be a human being who, like all the rest of us, makes mistakes."
If there is something you can do to improve on your decision, do something about it. If there's nothing you can do, don't dwell on it. Instead, create a learning opportunity from the experience and use what you’ve learned the next time you need to make a tough decision.
Page 2 of 2 -- Are you harbouring guilt? How to find out if guilt is holding you back on page 1.