Me Before We

Learn to love yourself first

To Be Your Better Self, Learn to Take 5

Quiet your guilt to live in a way that creates less guilt to quiet.

Learn to quiet guilt and worry to break the cycle of behaviors that lead to guilt and worry

Let’s say it’s finally the end of the day. All your responsibilities are finished or at least you’ve surrendered to the reality that you’ve done as much as you can for the day. You want to relax—and there’s the bathtub or another favorite indulgence. You want to soak and have your mind be quiet. But then the second you put your foot in the water, you feel guilty. There’s something you’re supposed to do, somewhere and someone else you’re supposed to be. There are too many things left undone, too many things you feel guilty about. So instead of enjoying, you fret. Instead of carving out a little space for yourself, you feel as closed in as ever.

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Why are you not allowed to be quiet and enjoy the moment? Don’t you deserve it? Do you really want to spend your life feeling guilty and wrong for sticking your foot in the water and having some time just for you?

There was a question on my Facebook page recently about what it means to have “fun.” In order to achieve this elusive state, you have to be able to trade guilt and worry for what might feel like selfishness or self-indulgence. Because taking time for yourself is selfish and self-indulgent, right? In it’s most basic form, fun means being able to momentarily let go of your self-consciousness, your guilt, your feelings of undeservingness, and enjoy where you are. You temporarily leave behind all your shoulds in favor of aaahs.

Here’s the thing: to many of us, letting go, even if only temporarily is still somehow selfish. Maybe there are things you “should” be doing or things left undone or situations and interactions you flubbed during the course of the day. Maybe you need time to regret and feel bad about these things. Is allowing yourself some enjoyment in the moment just another way to put off those things you need to do or need to process?  Perhaps repressing worry or releasing negative thoughts is just a way to avoid learning from your mistakes? Don't fretting and feelings of guilt provide the punishment you need to keep you acting as your better self?

The answer of course is "No." And actually, it’s the opposite.

The more guilt you feel and the more you fret, the more likely you are to perpetuate the self-sabotaging cycle, rather than give it room to air out and lose power. I’m not saying that by attempting to allow yourself a peaceful moment you will erase all your feelings of self-disgust and embarrassment—don’t worry, those feelings will be waiting when you step out of the tub. But try to give yourself just a little respite from them, even when you have officially done something “wrong.”  When your life is stressed and you feel guilty, undeserving, or are so overextended that you reach a level of frenetic and constant worry, it only makes you more likely to repeat the missteps that create and perpetuate all those negative feelings.

By allowing yourself to put your foot in that tub and even get in and take a deep breath and exhale, and then by consciously escorting your mind to positive places, you begin to open yourself up, to expand your thinking, maybe even begin to understand yourself with compassion. Having that moment of connecting with yourself allows the possibility and hopefulness that you can go into tomorrow with more confidence and control, so that you can act in ways you won’t have to fret about tomorrow night.

It’s easily said, but how can you expel guilt, worry, and undeservingness from the tub?

Here’s a simple suggestion: try saying “stop” to yourself. When you’re relaxing or enjoying yourself or having “fun” and other thoughts impinge, say “stop!” out loud or to yourself to break the negative flow of your thoughts and check their gathering momentum. Emotionally escort yourself back to somewhere safe. Then as you begin to relax again but are again infiltrated by guilt, worry, self-deprecating, negative thoughts, just keep saying stop. Try to refocus your attention into your enjoyment and into acceptance of your self in the moment. It may take a day or a week or a month or a year or more, but one day you’ll find that you’re able to sit in that bath and have your five minutes and everything around you will get just a little bit easier.

And on that day something will have shifted. There will be a little more space than there was before. By working to allow just one moment of feeling okay where you are, maybe you’ll look at one thing tomorrow in a more self-advocating way.

These little moments can add up to a lot. Over time, these moments of self-connectedness can create shifts in thinking and feeling, and can dismantle the hold of the worry, guilt, and undeservingness that has kept you stuck. Over time, what has seemed like a selfish indulgence can help you move through your days with self-awareness and self-acceptance. And eventually you can find that not only have you eased your worry, but you’re living in a way that leaves less to worry about in the first place.

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Twitter: @DrSuzanneL

FB: facebook/DrSuzanneLachmann

Suzanne Lachmann, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist in NYC specializing in psychotherapy.

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