Have you ever felt guilty when you did something wrong?
Most people are probably raising their hands right now, and that’s no surprise. It’s common to feel guilty when we’ve messed up.
But here’s a curveball for you: Have you ever felt guilty for being your best self – for a life you love and enjoy?
Have you ever felt guilty for doing amazing things, feeling positive emotions, and living a fulfilled and satisfying life? Believe it or not, this is a common experience, too, but it’s time to release your guilt.
It’s not doing you, or the rest of the world, any good. Nope, not one teeny, tiny bit. Stick with me to learn how you can stop feeling guilty for being the amazing person that you are, right here and right now.
Guilt Feels “Good”
Guilt is a tricky experience. On the one hand, we feel it after something “wrong” or “bad” happens.
Yet, paradoxically, feeling guilty actually activates the brain’s reward system. So, in a way, your brain rewards you for feeling guilty. This alone is incentive for feeling guilty again, and again, and again – just for good measure. (Maybe that’s why we’re such guilt mongers?)
In some cases, guilt may be useful. For example, it can motivate us to improve our behavior. However, some experts argue – and I agree with them – that self-compassion and self-forgiveness are far more helpful in improving our behavior than guilt. But I’m digressing here – that topic deserves its own blog post.
Here we don’t want to focus on why we feel guilty for the bad things that happen. Instead, we want to understand why we feel guilty for the good things in life – when we’re feeling well and living well.
What Does it Mean to Be Your Best Self?
Everyone’s life looks a little different. However, I think there are some things that everyone should enjoy – no matter what their life situation.
For example, these are experiences that allow people to be their best selves and live their best lives:
- The ability to give and experience unconditional love
- To ability to have positive, nourishing and uplifting relationships
- To ability to say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no
- The ability to grow and learn, to expand and explore
The ability to have experiences that make you feel good (as long as they do not harm others in the process, of course!)
Why Do You Feel Guilty for Being Your Best Self?
Beliefs can either hold us back or help us grow. Most of us carry limiting beliefs – beliefs that hold us back and encourage us to feel guilty for being our best selves, rather than proud and grateful for our experiences.
Do you believe any of the following beliefs? I encourage you to give them up. They’re keeping you stuck in the guilt trap.
#1: Feeling guilty makes me a better person.
A lot of us mistakenly believe that if you want to be a good and giving person, you have to serve others. Or, more accurately, if you want to be a good person, you have to be a martyr; otherwise, you’re a selfish person.
It’s as though we live in an either/or world, where we think that if you’re going to be your best self, you must automatically not be serving others. This is so far from the truth.
The German theologian Paul Tillich once said, “All love eventually becomes help.”
So, as long as you love yourself, as long as you are loving others, and as long as you’re living a life you love, you will serve others – without even trying.
In other words, it is your love that ultimately makes you a better person. Not your guilt.
#2: I live in a zero-sum world.
For hundreds of years, humanity has been operating from a scarcity mindset – that is, belief in a zero-sum world, which means we believe there is a limited amount of resources, and that goes for everything from emotional wellbeing to financial wellbeing.
But guess what? Happiness is not a limited resource.
It’s not that if you’re happy, other people can’t feel happy. It’s not that if you’re successful, other people are forced to be unsuccessful.
There is enough love, happiness and success for everyone in this world. You can never use it all up, and it’s not an either/or, zero-sum situation.
The spiritual teacher Dr. Wayne Dyer taught in his book The Power of Intention that it is impossible to feel sad, hurt, lonely, bitter, angry or sick enough to make even one person feel or get better.
Believe me when I tell you that your misery doesn’t serve anyone. And you being miserable and guilty cannot create more happiness. That’s not how the world works!
#3: I am responsible for other people’s happiness.
Here’s the thing. You are an incredibly important and valuable person in this world. That’s an irrefutable fact.
But do you want to know something else? That doesn’t make you responsible for other people’s happiness. That’s sort of an arrogant position to put yourself in.
Everyone has their own inner wisdom, their own inner guides and their own path to follow.
So, if you think it’s up to you to make everyone happy before you can be happy, that just doesn’t make any sense. You’re not trusting that everyone is finding their own way, on their own time.
Feeling guilty about where you are in life is not useful, and it doesn’t make you useful either.
Instead, it’s self-indulgent.
Remember, people don’t need your unhappiness. And that’s either because they have enough of their own or because they are doing their best to stay positive; your negativity will only put a damper on their joy.
#4: I don’t deserve to be happy.
So many people believe they don’t deserve to be happy – especially when they look around and see all the suffering in the world. It’s a sad, harrowing truth, and we need to change that.
We think that if others are suffering, we should suffer, too.
We say to ourselves, “What gives me the right to enjoy my life and to be my best self when so many people can’t?”
But here’s the caveat. If that was really true and correct, we would all be content with misery and subpar experiences. But we’re not.
We are always trying to improve our situation and to experience positive emotions, not negative ones.
And let’s be real. Whenever you see someone who isn’t alive with life and full of joy, you don’t really want to be around those people, do you?
They don’t lift you up, and they don’t inspire you to grow and overcome.
So, when you ask the question, “What gives me the right to enjoy my life and be my best self?”, my answer to you is simply this:
What if we all said that? What kind of world would we live in? In fact, I invite you to think that there’s actually no good reason to not feel proud of who you are, of what you’ve created so far and of what you will continue to create in your life.
You do deserve to feel happy and to be your best self because that is the whole point of your life.
You are intrinsically valuable and worthy, and claiming this will not only improve your life but the lives of those around you. I guarantee it.
#5: This won’t last.
In an interview with Oprah, Dr. Brené Brown shared that joy is the most terrifying experience and emotion. She teaches that the reason we feel terrified when we feel joy is because we’re scared that our source of joy will be taken away from us.
I think we feel guilty for the same reason. When things are going well and if we feel good, that must mean we will feel bad next.
This goes for everything from our good relationships, the jobs we love, the people we love, our financial abundance, our health, our wellbeing, etc.
Here again we see the deeply entrenched idea that we live in an either/or, zero-sum world.
The only problem is, when we start to feel afraid of losing our joy (and our sources of joy), we stop feeling joy.
And instead of joy, we stay in the middle, where we’re not surprised when things work out, and we’re not disappointed when things don’t work out.
We trade in joy for a blasé and jaded life experience.
How can we overcome the terror of feeling positive emotions like joy? How can we feel good without turning into pessimists? As Brown teaches, “There is no joy without gratitude.”
So, instead of feeling guilty about your amazing life and your beautiful self, practice gratitude. Be grateful for what you are creating. You can bake your cake and eat it too.
Be grateful for what you are attracting into your life. You can receive a cake and eat it too.
Joy does not beget suffering, and guilt does not create happiness. Not for you, and not for anyone else. I invite you to stop feeling guilty for being your best self and for living your best life. I invite you to stop feeling guilty for wanting to improve your life. Remember, when you love who you are, what you’re doing and where you are in life, you will have a positive ripple effect on the world around you.