How to stop feeling guilty

“Guilty” by Paris Buttfield-Addison is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Have you ever felt like you should be doing more to make Oklahoma better, but you just can’t seem to find the time?  Most days I get one or two messages from people in Oklahoma who feel that they need to apologize for not doing more.  If you feel that way, you are not alone.  One of the big challenges in shifting this state is getting over some of our emotional hang ups, so today I’d like to share some thoughts about how we are getting stuck in guilt and what you can do about it.

Feeling guilty is a normal response in this society, and I certainly feel it too. Those of us reading this post, as well as those who read In The Know daily Oklahoma news round-ups from the Oklahoma Policy Institute, often do so because we are concerned about the well-being of our communities and our families. That concern sometimes triggers guilt, and that is okay. Guilt can even be a helpful emotion — for more on that check out this article in Psychology Today — but just how much does it help us with our Together Oklahoma mission to get our state on track to prosperity?  

It doesn’t help if we get stuck in a place of guilt.  The Unstuck blog helpfully shares these five telltale signs that guilt may be eating up the quality of your life:

  1. You avoid certain people or situations because they trigger shame memories. (Have you ever avoided engaging with state politics for this reason?)
  2. You say no to opportunities because you believe you don’t deserve them. 
  3. You clam up or get defensive.
  4. You rationalize or make excuses, even when no one’s challenging you.
  5. You play (and replay) the guilty act in your head so that it kills your energy levels and takes you a good long while to reset.

Number one and number five, avoiding situations and replaying the events, are the signs I see most often in our group. We need to figure out how move past these blocks that have us stuck. In that same blog by Unstuck they point out that “…Research shows that guilt is a pretty ineffective way to control behavior. In a 2013 study published in Appetite, psychologists found that people who linked chocolate cake with guilt rather than with celebration had more trouble losing and maintaining weight. Instead of acting as a positive motivating force, guilt actually leads to feelings of helplessness and lack of control.”

I’m convinced that our guilt over the problems in our state and our perceived inability to fix them is one of our biggest obstacles to actually making things better, so here is what I want us to do.

Let’s start checking in with each other as our top TOK priority. When you catch yourself feeling guilty about not doing enough, consider the option to check in on TOK Slack. Let’s swap that paralyzing guilt for nurturing community. Any time, day or night, you can log into Slack, express some gratitude to your fellow advocates, and see what productive things are going on.

We are setting up another round of face to face meetings with our legislators in the coming months. If you do nothing else, the one thing that you really can do is check in to let your fellow constituents know that you are with them.

Trust me, we are not here to guilt you for not doing more. You taking care of you and your loved ones has to come first, and by checking in you will be giving yourself the opportunity to just be glad in the knowledge that you are really and truly not alone.