What do guilt and Covid-19 have in common? A lot actually! During this time, I had expected to hear my clients, my colleagues, my family and my friends experiencing anxiety. There is so much uncertainty about the future, so much pressure to stay safe, so much worry about elderly family members, financial pressure and the list goes on. I am experiencing and manging my own anxiety too as I have three immediate family members who are severely immune compromised. This need to manage anxiety has come as no surprise.
What I hadn’t expected as much was the guilt. The guilt of being really happy at home, while others are struggling and depressed. The guilt of being able to continue my work from home, when others are losing their jobs. The guilt of being surrounded by the love and support of my family, while many are alone. The guilt of being locked down in luxury, while so many are homeless. The guilt of being able to throw my daughter a special birthday party (she is 2 today 😊) with lots of gifts, balloons, cake, biscuits, décor and more, while people are starving. The guilt of being healthy, while others aren’t. The guilt of having privilege and blessings, when so many don’t. This is not just me I am talking about. I’m talking about many of my coaching clients and close circle. If you can relate, I hope I can help you to manage your emotions because guilt will cripple you, whether you deserve it or not.
1. Recognise and listen to your feelings of guilt. Guilt is experienced when you realise or believe (accurately or not) that you have compromised your own or some universal moral standard. Guilt is closely related to remorse and shame. So, it’s important to be able to identify your feelings and ask if this is true of your guilt? What are your feelings really about? What message do you need to listen to? Remember to think of your feelings as being like the warning lights in your car. It doesn’t serve you very well to ignore them or to judge them but it does serve you to pay attention and listen to the messages they are trying to get through to you.
2. Know that your feelings are very normal. At this time, what we are experiencing is similar to “survivor guilt” because we are social creatures and mostly naturally empathic towards others. In times of crisis, like a global Covid-19 pandemic, we identify more strongly than normal with those in our extended human family. This guilt is because of a healthy sensitivity to others, and an awareness of the unfairness of life that we can’t control.
3. Get the message and the lesson. If you do nothing, the guilt can cripple you. So, once you have recognised, listened, and realised that what you are feeling is normal, either let it go or let the lesson you’ve learnt drive a change in your behaviour. For example, if the guilt is because you have gone to the shops more than necessary just to get out of the house and you could’ve jeopardised your family’s health in the process… stop it! Find other ways to channel your pent-up energy. On the other hand, if you realise that you have not done something to compromise your own values and what others are experiencing is the result of a virus that is beyond your control, then let yourself off the hook but maybe not before you…
4. Reframe your guilt as a blessing and pay it forward. For me this has been very important because what lies behind most of my guilt feelings is a hugely blessed life! When I reframe the guilt and focus on the blessing, it is evident how much I need to be doing to pay it forward. This doesn’t mean wearing yourself thin trying to rescue everyone. A martyr is no good eventually.
5. Know that you are not exempt. To get to this place of privilege, you’ve probably had lots of your own suffering. I know I did. I’ve paid my school fees many times and worked my way through many dark periods in life and tragic loss. If you haven’t, you likely will. No-one is exempt! So, celebrate how hard you’ve worked and sacrificed to create your blessings and then go back to point 4 and take Key Steps to pay it forward and…
“be the difference that makes the difference”