Handling Guilt Gremlins. ~ Christine Martin

Via elephant journal
on May 2, 2012
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The word itself is harsh. Ugly. Add a “y” to it, and it throws stones, points fingers, casts looks.

Guilt is one of those gremlins that shows up and causes us to question, to beat ourselves up, to become inert.

Certainly, we are human and make mistakes. There are times when guilt is a reasonable subsequent emotion to an unfair thought, unkind word, unnecessarily hurtful action. In those moments, the effect may be to rectify, seek forgiveness, redirect action towards something positive.

But, guilt is a sneaky thing. It tends to come up for all sorts of reasons and sometimes, the effect wavers from positivity and leads to a reaction that is negative based.

I suffer from guilt. Often. I’ve put it under a microscope through self-reflection, conversation, therapy, coaching. It comes up for me over and over.

There may be a number of possible reasons for the presence of guilt. Maybe it was handed down by familial generations; it runs in the family or shows up in culture. Sometimes it functions in religion. Or very simply, when it’s practiced, it works. Let’s look at that last one.

One reason guilt shows up often in life is because it has power.

Whether it is used by someone to make another act in his/her favor, or you take it and internalize it to make a decision about yourself, it displays a sense of control.

How to handle guilt? Well, I’m not an expert by any means. But, here’s my take on it:

  1. Release. Guilt can layer up or create tension/stress. Let the emotion out before reacting. Breathe. Curse. Have a cry fest. Dance. Talk it out. It always feels better.
  2. Get clarity. Sometimes guilt can obscure things. Try to get clear what you are truly feeling over the issue at hand. Does that one incident make you a bad person, really?
  3. Lose the crutch. What would you do if you did not feel guilty? How would that impact the way you view yourself or the situation?
  4. Recognize that sometimes, it’s not about you. Not taking things personally, or taking on others’ problems is a skill to practice.
  5. Forgive yourself. If we can’t do this or show ourselves kindness, then how can we do it towards others?

Living so far away from home has brought on several layers of guilt for me.

Watching births, weddings, and other happy events from Facebook albums? Guilty. Losing contact with some friends? Guilty. Missing my dear aunt’s funeral? Guilty.

For me, this is an ongoing process of recognizing the emotion and deciding what to do with it. But what I know, is that with every bit of practice, I am learning to tame those nasty gremlins.

What are your thoughts/feelings around guilt? Does it mobilize you in a positive way or paralyze you?


Christine Martin has been an international educator for over ten years. She’s made her home in Colombia, Tunisia & Korea. Her passion is interior design/interior architecture and has recently completed certification in these areas. She enjoys travel, photography, food, yoga. She and her husband are making a huge life shift in October 2012, leaving their careers and moving to Laos. You can find Christine on Twitter, her personal blog or interior design site.


Editor: Cassandra Smith


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26 Responses to “Handling Guilt Gremlins. ~ Christine Martin”

  1. Noushin says:

    As I said again & again, you are mega great at it! So just keep up writing & posting your amazing views ^^ from one very loyal follower!?

  2. Erica says:

    Love love love Christine Martin's writing! We want more of her!!

  3. Monica says:

    Great post! Very honest and insightful.

  4. christinemartindesign says:

    Thanks so much, Noushin. I appreciate all of your feedback.

  5. christinemartindesign says:

    Thanks, Erica! I appreciate your comment very much!

  6. christinemartindesign says:

    Thanks, Monica. You comment means a lot.

  7. Sara says:

    Your honesty and insight speaks to me. I gotta say that the combo of remembering that it's not about you/forgiving yourself are the two I struggle most with. Thanks so much for sharing. Looking forward to reading more of your work!

  8. Kris says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring ideas and insights with these blog posts! This one was deep.

  9. Melissa says:

    I really like the suggestions for turning the guilty feelings into positive action. Guilt, more often than not, seems to be an emotion cultivated by many in order to control what someone else does. This learned behavior leads to the downward spiral of self hate. By taking back control, we let go of the passive negativity and respond with positive action. I like it!

  10. Angela says:

    Fantastic writing, Christine I like what you said about guilt having a power, look forward to reading more from you!

  11. Michelle says:

    Love your idea about getting clarity. It's so easy to get focused on a side issue! Great article!

  12. Alex says:

    Thanks for your advice, here. "Recognize that sometimes it's not about you". That is the truth! Things blow up inside our brains way bigger than they do in real life. I spent years having guilt over some lost relationships only to find out there were there all along. Making assumptions is the worst mistake in getting over guilt. Forgive yourself, stay positive, and you'll be surprised at the results.

  13. loren says:

    An area of guilt for me is knowing how easy it is to live well overseas when so many, including family and close friends are struggling back home. I know that being a positive "ambassador" of my country technically counts as me doing my part, but that's like ordering boneless fried chicken. You get all the good stuff without having to get your fingers dirty. Not only that, when you are done working, it's hard to justify licking your fingers and being proud of your work.

  14. Yoona says:

    That was great Christine. Thinking of giving myself a huge break and FORGIVING myself. Thanks~

  15. christinemartindesign says:

    hi Sara, yes…those are tough ones. It's really easy to be hard on ourselves, isn't it? thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  16. christinemartindesign says:

    Thank you, Kris. I appreciate your readership. 😉

  17. christinemartindesign says:

    Thanks, Melissa. Emotions really do lead us to places of reaction rather than response. If we just can sit back and add some distance, responses may derive from our true values and beliefs. I'm just learning this. 🙂

  18. christinemartindesign says:

    Thank you, Michelle. I appreciate your comment.

  19. christinemartindesign says:

    Thank you, Angela.

  20. christinemartindesign says:

    Yes, Alex, assumption making is a dangerous habit. But, that's what we do, right? Create stories so that it makes sense to us or makes us right or something. Very hard to wait and acknowledge there is always two sides. Thanks for your comment.

  21. christinemartindesign says:

    Great metaphor, Loren! Love it. I get what you're saying, having lived internationally for some time too. We do get the best of both worlds…as visitors home, it's kinda like being a tourist. And then, we come back to the comfy lives overseas. But, it's not all roses. There ARE some challenges being abroad. And, I think being an open-minded and responsive individuals (and modeling that to others) is one of the best contributions made both as Americans and global citizens.

  22. Christine Martin, your posts are bang on. They are raw and honest and witty with a perfect side of humor. I love reading your blog. You posts are authentic and to the point. I too suffer from a HUGE, dark guilt issue; it's my divorce. I feel like I really let Gui down and that I caused him a lot of pain and suffering. I think that getting clarity is key for me. I tend to obscure, and even invent a scenario that makes me hurt deep inside. Perhaps, because I think I deserve to feel bad, … jump to number 5. Forgive myself. This is indeed a repeat process. Keep writing girl. Your words are very powerful!

  23. christinemartindesign says:

    You're welcome, Yoona…:)

  24. christinemartindesign says:

    thanks so much, Diane. your comment shows courage and introspection that are also powerful. i love your blog too.keep writing; you've much to share.

  25. christinemartindesign says:

    thank you so much! it's an honor, really.

  26. […] Guilt can be an impediment to our spiritual growth. Guilt has absolutely no value; it is simply evaluating our past actions and decisions with our present-day intelligence. We might be feeling guilty for either having wealth, or guilty for not having it. Either way, we lose. […]