Why do you sometimes feel guilty? & What to do about it!
If you pay close attention to your thoughts and your beliefs, you might notice that you often feel guilty. One study found that if you add up all the time you spend feeling mildly or moderately guilty, it can represent a substantial chunk of your time. Apparently, most people experience about five hours a week of guilty feelings.
You may feel guilty about eating (what we eat or how much we eat), or not exercising, using technology too much, not being a good parent etc.
Read on to find out why you experience these feelings, and what you can do about it…
Where does feeling guilty come from?
One theory on the evolution of guilt is that it may have developed because of our tendency to live in socially connected, mutually supportive groups. A lot of human behaviors are traced back by evolutionary scientists to our social past, and our need to survive as a species. And that survival was based on fear.
When we feel guilt, we are experiencing a conflict at having done something that one believes one should not have done or conversely, having not done something one believes one should have done. And the experience of this conflict is linked to the creation of anxiety and fear. Fear of doing harm to ourselves or others, fear of getting caught or fear of the repercussions of our actions etc.
As Dr. Wayne Dyer says, there are only two emotions – one of them is FEAR and the other one is LOVE. And all negative emotions fall under the headline of FEAR, including guilt, and all positive emotions under the headline of Love. But why do we have these FEAR-based beliefs? (And remember what FEAR stands for: False Evidence Appearing Real – or – Fantasised Events Appearing Real.)
It turns out that this negativity and fear is ‘normal’ and that we can thank evolution for this ‘negativity bias’ which comes from our survival days back when we were cave dwellers. Our brain is wired to always see the negative first and to focus on that to survive. Although our cave-dwelling days are long gone, our brain and mind still operate the same way. This bias was discovered and documented by the psychologists Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman in 2001.
The good news is that we can train our mind to be more positive and less anxious. And one great tool to do this is learning and practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is not obscure or exotic. It’s familiar to us because it’s what we already do, how we already are. We all already have the capacity to be present, and it doesn’t require us to change who we are.
We can cultivate these innate qualities with simple practices. While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice daily. That’s when the real magic happens, as we re-wire our brain to be more positive, focused, happy and more. There’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re remodeling the physical structure of your brain.
A great practice to start with to control your guilty feelings is mindful eating.
Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. Eating is a natural, healthy and pleasurable activity for satisfying hunger. However, in our food-abundant culture eating can sometimes become mindless, all-consuming and guilt-inducing instead.
Mindful eating is an ancient mindfulness practice with profound modern implications and applications for resolving this troubled love-hate relationship with food, and for becoming more aware of how we eat.
To practice mindful eating, choose a food that you love and crave. Chocolate is an example of a food that some people have conflicted feelings about so can be a perfect food to start with. If chocolate causes you too much anxiety, you can also use any other kind of food – may be a raisin, a piece of apple, a strawberry or anything else.
To find out more, see my video here about mindful eating and give it a try. You could use a chocolate Easter egg, a piece of chocolate or any other food that you have on hand. Alternatively, listen to my mindful eating audio recording here.