Letting go of anxious guilt

Anxious guilt is understood as excessive, even obsessive. It leads to depressive episodes, high levels of anxiety and generally isn’t a very pleasant thing to feel. If you suffer from anxiety and have done something to induce a sense of wrongdoing, you may experience anxious guilt. It’s something quite new to me, yet familiar at the same time. I’ve felt anxious guilt at different points in my life. I’d often stew about past mistakes for weeks or even months at a time. If I’d upset someone, that would drive me to the point of despair. Now older and somewhat wiser, I’ve come to develop some awareness about what this feeling is and where it comes from.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts or have spoken to me in the past 9 months or so, I am going to apologise now because I’m going back to my last relationship again. To cut a very long story short, I really cocked it up with a wonderful human and spent months obsessing over it. My anxious guilt was consuming- parasitic and unending. It would wash over me in huge waves that stayed for days or weeks at a time. ‘What ifs’ were very common thoughts that would crop up and then easily dominate my day. Obsessive looking at old pictures, of her social media, the whole thing. I would reply what happened over and over, thinking about what the new version of me would have done differently. Whilst its true that a little bit of guilt can be good for developing our understanding of right and wrong, repetitive self-flagellation and constant revisits to past events do little other than to hammer you further into the ground.

I started to finally learn and move on when I began accepting my mistakes. Extremely fearful of people running away at the sight of the slightest negative, I found it difficult to truly accept that I am a flawed person with a couple of possible toxic traits if left unchecked. Thing is, it’s perfectly natural to have these flaws. Instead of hiding from them, I began to embrace them. I still have a way to go, but I’ve found much more peace since treating my flaws with kindness. I’m a human being who is bound to have flaws. This is okay. You’re working to overcome them and that’s what matters. How you talk to yourself is so important. Practise kind self-talk deliberately and eventually the present you will begin to feel emancipated from the guilt of your unalterable past. I say unalterable because no matter how much you improve, the past cannot be changed. This needs to just be accepted.

I strongly believe that no human is truly good, nor is a human truly bad. You simply cannot look at people in such dichotomous terms. The blacks and whites of good and bad merge and blend, argue and wrestle, at myriad points to produce our many idiosyncratic greys. You will do bad things in your life. You will upset people. However, you can also sort your shit out and show up for people in ways you didn’t earlier. You can grow and evolve. You can love better, communicate more effectively and honestly, respect yourself more and become more fulfilled. You also, despite the bad things, have a lot to offer. You are not just your mistakes; you are your successes and aspirations, also. So, just like anyone else, you are deserving of kindness and love.

Lastly, if you’re feeling anxious guilt about something, disconnect from it as much as possible. It’s easiest for me to talk about relationship guilt here. In that case, remove them from all social media and block them if you need to. Blocking isn’t an act of hatred, it can be the turn away from guilt and towards healing. Delete phone numbers, delete pictures. Purge. Sever yourself from the poisonous roots taking hold in whatever way possible. You’ll never move into the present if you’re feeding on the guilt of the past.

I guess all I can say here is even if you’ve fucked something up really badly: lost a job, failed at a relationship or friendship, failed to meet some obligations, you’re only human. You’re not a failure. You deserve happiness just like everyone else.

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