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3 posts from February 2012

02/27/2012

Make Amends to Make Your Guilt Disappear

12-step programs such as Overeaters Anonymous and Eating Disorders Anonymous contain many useful tools that any of us can use. When it comes to healing guilt, one of the best methods is found in steps 8 and 9.

Step 8 reads, "Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all." Step 9 continues with, "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

The 12-step process recognizes that guilt over our unresolved issues with people, places and institutions are what cause us to reach for unhealthy behaviors such as food addiction, emotional eating, bulimia, over-exercising and restricting.

When they feel guilty, a lot of people are quick to apologize. Unfortunately, they're just as quick to repeat whatever it is they just apologized for. There's no relief for either person, because there wasn't any action or change behind the apology.

The 12-step process of making amends goes beyond an apology, to actually changing the words or actions that harmed the other person. If we have acted out of integrity with the kind of person we wish to be, we can do something to repair the damage in a real way.

This is rarely an easy process, and that's why it requires spiritual guidance and strength. Sometimes it's not clear how to make up for what we did, and we need some extra clues or insights. Other times we may see what we have to do, but we feel afraid or reluctant to do it. We need extra strength and courage – especially if there may be consequences for admitting what we did wrong.

Whatever the situation that is causing your guilt, it's important to be thorough in the process of making amends. Otherwise you can put a cycle in motion where you keep hurting the other person or you keep hurting yourself. As part of your amends, you can create a new plan of living when it comes to that person or situation. How would you like the relationship to look and feel? How would you like to behave in the situation? What kind of person do you want to be?

In some cases, even after you've identified a person or institution that you owe an amends to, you can't do it right away. Maybe you don't have the financial means to fully repay a debt. Maybe the person you harmed has died or moved away. The important thing is to get yourself to a place of being willing to make the amends, and then find a way to do it.

A 12-step sponsor or a therapist can be very helpful during this process. This person can also make sure that you haven't slipped to the other side of the equation where you're taking on responsibility for something you haven't done, out of a sense of people pleasing or co-dependency.

Reflect on all the people or institutions you have hurt or harmed, and get yourself to a place where you're willing to do whatever it takes to repair the damage that was your part. Sometimes the action takes place right away; sometimes the action is deferred or done through someone else.

Before making amends, be sure that you have forgiven the other person for any harm they may have done to you. The amends process cannot work if you are still full of rage, resentment or defensiveness.

No matter how much love you may have in your heart when you approach the other person, you can't expect them to accept your amends or be ready to forgive you. They may not be able to do that right now and you have to accept that. You're making these amends to relieve your own poisonous, toxic guilt. You can hold your head high, no matter how the other person responds.

The biggest amends you may have to make is to yourself, for putting yourself through all of this guilt. If you can change your perspective and behaviors so they're more loving and kind – to yourself and others – that will change our relationships, alleviating our guilt and replacing it with relief and gratitude.

There are three key benefits of making amends are. First, an apology for hurting someone in the past can be a great way to build a bridge to a better future relationship with others or with oneself.

Next, it's ideal for removing the weight of guilt, shame and remorse. Finally, step 9 leads right into step 10, which is a daily reflection on how we behaved. We can use step 10 and the journaling process to clean stuff up every day so it never builds up beyond 24 hours. It's a beautiful way of living.

 

02/16/2012

Pause, Listen, Respond, Let Go

Saying yes when we want to say no is a sure sign that guilt is making that decision for us. Whether we're trying to lessen guilt we already feel, or avoid guilt we're afraid of feeling, we've now set aside our own desires, goals and needs.

To avoid the self-destructive cycle of guilt and resentment , here is the four-step formula I use when someone makes a request: 

  1. Pause – I let the person know that I have to give it some thought. If they insist on knowing immediately, I say the answer has to be no until I have more time to consider it.
  2. Listen – I quiet my mind and tune into my body to make a spiritual connection and hear my intuitive voice. I also try to imagine doing whatever the thing is. Did doing this thing give me energy or drain my energy? I may also get messages from my "gut" or feel something in my throat.
  3. Listen more (if needed) – If I'm still not clear about what the right answer is for me, I will take more time to reflect, usually by writing in my journal. I may also discuss the situation with supportive family, friends or one of my therapist colleagues.
  4. Respond and let go – I return to the person and give my answer. Once I've made my decision, I have to trust what I felt in that moment and avoid second-guessing myself. If I said no, I let go of any mind reading or projecting what the other person may think. Otherwise, I end up being just as much of a slave to the situation as if I'd said yes. If I did say yes, I proceed to carry out the action with a spirit of love, generosity and service.

This process can be a lot quicker than it sounds, and it will get faster the more you do it and the more you learn to trust yourself.

The next time someone makes a request for your time, energy, money or attention, try this four-step process.

02/08/2012

Guilt is a Four-Letter Word

Be honest. How many of your actions and decisions today were driven by guilt? Were you trying to relieve guilt that you already felt, or trying to avoid feeling guilty later?

Using guilt as a motivator starts a chain reaction that can very self-destructive. This is true for everyone, but for someone in recovery from an eating disorder, food addiction, compulsive eating, anorexia or bulimia, this pattern can compound the emotional difficulties you're already dealing with.

When you base your decisions on feelings, including guilt, you tune out rational thought, as well as the self-nurturing intuitive thought that is available by making a spiritual connection.

Let's say you agree to babysit your friend’s kids, even though you already had plans that you now have to cancel. You felt obligated and worried about how your friend might respond if you said no. You didn't think you could deal with your feelings of guilt.

By saying yes to your friend, you may have avoided the guilt, but you've put yourself at risk for feeling resentful because you gave up doing something you were looking forward to. And the discomfort of that resentment can drive you right back towards using food, weight obsession, purging or over-exercising as a coping mechanism.

What's even worse is how guilt and resentment can strain your relationships with the people whose love and support is so vital to your recovery.

If you want to stop being a slave to your guilt, you can start by getting more awareness of how it's showing up in your life. Your journal is a great tool for tracking and reviewing these notes. You can also share your writing with a therapist or trusted friend to get feedback and insights.

If you want to stop guilt in its tracks, try to do less "mind reading" or projecting your own thoughts onto others. For example, maybe you think you friend will think you don't care about her or her kids if you say so no her request.

Again, turn to your journal. Write out all the things you imagine the other person is thinking or feeling. Seeing them in black and white may help you to realize that you can't be sure whether they're true. Getting some objective feedback can help here as well.

There is nothing wrong with being a generous, giving person who does nice things for others. In fact, giving back can help you progress in your recovery. Giving also has a spiritual effect, and is one of the ways I incorporate spirituality into my life.

As with everything, balance is the key. If you're feeling out of balance, chances are that you're giving out of guilt.