Use Your Guilt Productively

Untitled (2)Use Your Guilt Productively.  Sounds like kind of a nutty blog post title to me.

I feel guilty about that, but I will get over that and try to write.

As a psychologist and a person with a guilt-checkered past, I am amazed at the types of guilt I see in myself and others.

I/You can feel guilt about:

  • not being able to handle everything
  • not being able to make a decision that makes perfect sense
  • not being able to stick to your own guidelines
  • feeling resentful
  • feeling needy
  • feeling restless
  • feeling good
  • wanting something different
  • being different

I am pretty sure you can add to this non-exhaustive list, because you are a Procrastinator (or because you are a person).

In my opinion, guilt is a highly overrated concept.  I often say to patients, “Your guilt is useless.”  May seem rough to you, but it gets patients to consider what is really operating for them beneath the guilty feelings.  What they discover may include:

  • an imbalanced relationship causing their discomfort
  • important messages which they have not communicated
  • a belief that they should have more control, when that is not possible
  • a lack of awareness of what feels “right,” due to years of suppressing their natural awareness of what is right for them

Guilt seems to be a placeholder for people’s conflicted feelings.  Guilt rushes in to make us feel remorseful and inadequate, and disguises the clarity of our real feelings.  “I want this, but I am forced to do that.”  “I did this, but I really needed to do that instead.”  This tension between two different positions is the definition of conflict.  When we do not address the conflict, the symptoms commence (#IstolethatfromFreud).

So, maybe we can use our guilt feelings in some productive way.  This brings to mind the idea of getting a car out of a muddy area.  You know you are in deep, but you also know this is not the end of the world.  You place some kitty litter, gravel, or branches under your tires.  You pause, take a breath, brace yourself, then you go — onward ho — with your car and yourself intact.  You just want out, and you are going to motivate yourself and your car forward.

Using this idea of moving forward to deal with guilt tends to work.  Guilt tends to be transitory and certainly should be.  No good ever came out of permanently-affixed guilt.  Just saying.  You can learn over time to use guilt feelings as a trigger for some sort of action to take care of your feelings and to take care of yourself.  You can use guilt feelings as a sign you need to evaluate what you are in conflict over.  You might use your guilt feelings to remind yourself to pause and to breathe through your stress.  Maybe guilt isn’t so useless after all.

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About Christine Li

I am a licensed clinical psychologist with an expertise in working with procrastinators. I enjoy the challenge of helping chronic procrastinators to see their work and their relationship to their work in a new way so they may find ways to move forward. Although I work with many students in my private practice, I also work with professionals who wish to improve their level of engagement in their work and in their lives outside of work. I have hosted this website since 2009, when I decided to reach out to those struggling with procrastination but who were outside my geographical area of New York. I have very much enjoyed the contacts I have made through this site and the coaching work that I have been able to do as a result of "Procrastination Coach." I invite you to contact me so we can discuss how my coaching services will fit with your current needs.