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> Back to Self-Care Excerpts List

Self-Care Excerpt from Don't Weight

Guilt vs. Healthy Regret

I come from an Irish Catholic family. Debate or discussion was a primary recreation for us. When I was a teenager, I remember sitting by and listening to my brother and my father talk about guilt. "If people did not feel guilty about doing bad things, they would have no motivation to stop doing bad things." I knew most people would agree with their statement, yet I could FEEL something was wrong. As the years went by, I came to understand one of the problems with guilt.

Guilt makes people feel bad. Nobody wants to feel bad. In order to avoid feeling bad, people often numb themselves or tune out. For example, if you felt guilty about eating cookies, but part of you really wanted to eat the cookies, you might just eat the cookies and tune out while you are eating. Did you ever find yourself eating the last cookie and wonder where the rest of the package had gone?

Guilt makes people feel bad. Feeling bad about yourself reduces the motivation to do anything. Guilt about unhealthy eating or missing a workout may actually CAUSE you to stop trying to take care of yourself. Feeling bad can make you feel hopeless. "Oh, well, I already blew it. I am such a screw up. What's the use?"

If guilt doesn't help, what are we supposed to do when we mess up? I would like to introduce a concept that I call "healthy regret". When you do something that you wish you had not done, instead of beating yourself up with guilt, you could look at the situation differently. You could cultivate a healthy regret for your actions: " I wish I had not done that." Implicit in healthy regret is a wish for and the beginning of change. There is no self-deprecation, no internal name-calling. There is simply an awareness of a wish that things were different, a wish that things were better. THAT sounds like the beginning of a motivation for change. This awareness is necessary in order to make a plan to do things differently next time. When next you do (or don't do) something you regret, you can put your energy into doing (or not doing) better the next time. You can think of ways to succeed in the future, instead of beating yourself up with guilt for the past.

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