Choosing Guilt Improved My Mental Health

Photo by Talles Alves on Unsplash

Ever since I was a child, I prioritized the needs of others over my own needs. I never wanted to let others down. My desire to meet the needs of family, friends, and even strangers generally came before my willingness to recognize and care for my needs. On the rare occasion that I did something for myself, I hated the guilt that came along for the ride. I avoided the feeling of guilt at all costs.

There was a consequence to my guilt avoidance. I developed an intimate relationship with resentment. When I chose to meet the expectations of others at the expense of my desires, I resented my choice. Resentment is defined as bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly. Who was treating me unfairly? No one was forcing me to choose them over myself. I was the one acting unfairly toward myself, and I was the one that was suffering the consequences of my resentment.

Forty-plus years of regularly choosing resentment over guilt negatively impacted my mental and physical well-being. I held the resentment tightly. I did not let it go or express it, and the result was misdirected anger and bitterness toward those I cared about. This was unhealthy for me and unfair to my family and friends. It wasn’t until the side effects became hard to ignore that I began to see the downside of coddling and cradling the resentment. I experienced increased anxiety, mood swings, and disturbed sleep. 

The negative impact of holding and suppressing negative emotions, like resentment, can lead to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression,
  • Mood disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep issues
  • Emotional Dysregulation
  • Burnout (This is a BIG one for caregivers)

(Learn more about the effects of resentment on the mind, body, and soul in this informative article at verywellmind.com.)

As I learned the importance of caring for myself, I began to do more things that made me feel guilty. The emotion of guilt was not a fun feeling to have. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant, but I felt better. It felt lighter than feeling resentment. The guilty feeling began to dissipate faster as I practiced accepting the emotion rather than trying to judge (or avoid) it. I was able to process the guilt more quickly. I believe that as I learned how to love and care for myself, the feeling of guilt was replaced with self-compassion.

When we give ourselves compassion and empathy first, we have more to give to others. We are built to be empathetic and compassionate, and it starts with us. Practicing self-compassion requires us to listen to the internal voice inside each of us. We are curious about our desires and wants. We consider our needs when we make a decision or choice. I am not a therapist, but I have experienced the positive impact of self-compassion on my mental health. Each time I make a decision that benefits my mental and physical wellness, I feel better. I am lighter. I have more energy to care for others. My empathy and compassion expand. Dr. Gábor Maté (a physician specializing in trauma and addiction) says, “The next time you are struggling to make a decision, recognize the feeling that comes up. If your decision comes down to feeling guilty or resentful–choose guilt.”

Note: I highly recommend a recent Mindfulness Exercises podcast episode that shares an interview with Dr. Gábor Maté. This is a powerful interview. Maté discusses how practicing self-compassion expands our empathy and compassion for others. There is a lot of goodness packed in this short episode.

Published by bshort1968

I am a self-described caregiver. I love to help and care for others. I have learned the value of caring for myself as well. Now I want to live my life helping others learn to care for others and take care of themselves as well.

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