Pervasive guilt is a bummer. It can crop up when you least expect it and trail you around, gnawing away at your confidence and self-belief. Judgements are at the heart of this toxic type of guilt. We fear being judged by others, but worse, we take it out on ourselves by our lack of compassion and tolerance for ourselves.
Some of us judge oursleves more harshly than we judge others, berating ourselves for our perceived shortcomings. If you do this it can make you feel sad, lonely, and even, more guilty. In some cases there’s a payoff though; turning those judgements away from yourself can give you a little lift, because criticising others can make you feel marginally better about yourself.
Once you spot that guilt is often fuelled by unrealistic and harsh self-judgements you can do something about it by learning to treat yourself with compassion and understanding. Paul Gilbert, in his book The Compassionate Mind (see below), describes some basic qualities of a compassionate individual: wisdom, warmth and kindness and being non-judgemental.
These are ideals, so don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally lapse into feeling weak or making the odd negative judgement. But bear them in mind as an image to aspire to. Be guided by your idea of what it means to be compassionate towards others, and then bend it towards greater compassion for yourself.
An exercise for developing self-compassion
Research suggests that people who respond with compassion to their own flaws and setbacks — rather than beating themselves up — experience greater physical and mental health. I have prepared an exercise to help you train yourself towards greater self-compassion. It is part of my soon-to-be released online course How to be Free of Guilt. You can download the exercise A Compassionate Letter here. So, no need to wait. Do it now.
Paul Gilbert, The Compassionate Mind.