Do you constantly cast blame on yourself for feeling the way you feel or for desiring the things you desire? Do you feel guilty after you express your emotions to someone else? Do you constantly fear hurting others when making a choice that's best for you, but then find that you stop yourself and hurt yourself instead?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then you are just like me and many of us on the planet who suffer from existential guilt whereby we think, on some level, that our mere existence is a burden.
The fact that we are surviving should be enough, right? We should all be grateful and satisfied to have food, water and shelter, and can accept it as "normal" to live with tons of guilt, right? Asking to thrive, to achieve our dreams and goals is simply too much to ask.
If you can't already tell, I am being sarcastic. It is not wrong to want to enjoy our lives, our relationships and our bodies to the fullest. It is not wrong to desire fulfilling work that has meaning, but which also pays the bills, puts food on the table, and eventually provides the financial freedom to never feel trapped somewhere we don't want to be.
The root-cause of the guilt and fear that so many of us are far too familiar with goes back to our early childhood. Raising children is a huge sacrifice for parents. We realized this as kids, and absorbed the sense of being a burden. Hopefully, your parents or guardians welcomed and supported you and your feelings, needs, desires and dreams — not just your survival. But the feeling of guilt, even if it was deep-rooted and not quite conscious, still was there.
As children, we depended on our parents/guardians. We were vulnerable. So we learned, by default, to fear losing our parents' love and support. We don't want to feel too much, need too much, say too much or do too much. It's early on in our lives that we develop this impulse to self-censor.
We don't need to fear being rejected and abandoned as adults just because we feared being rejected and abandoned as children. We now can have greater self-awareness, or at least a desire to cultivate self-awareness.
To do so, we can develop a few simple habits to start to learn how to think we are right — that our feelings, desires, and thoughts are OK, not blameworthy. Here are five …
1. Welcome everything about yourself.
Everything. What you think, feel, desire, need and dream. Plant your feet firmly in the present without making it wrong or rejecting it out of fear. Try slow, deep breathing through your nose to help with this process significantly. Make it a meditation!
2. Establish an affirming mantra.
You might consider, "It is my birthright to be healthy, happy, fulfilled and valued. My feelings, needs, desires and dreams matter."
3. Forgive yourself. No matter what.
So you may have judged yourself, or felt wrong, guilty, bad or overall negative in the past — for things great and small. But forgive yourself regardless. Forgive yourself for holding yourself back and causing yourself so much pain, but don't dwell on it. You are now letting yourself live an authentic and fulfilling life that you love now.
4. Find your courage (it's there).
It's in there, you just need to tap into it and use it! Find the courage to speak and act based on your true feelings, needs and goals in every moment and situation — even if you're scared. It will energize and inspire you.
5. Give yourself permission.
Rather than betraying yourself because you fear feeling guilt, hurting others, or losing love, really allow yourself each day to be true to yourself and only engage in relationships, situations, work, and activities that make you feel good, alive and well. Your life should feel no other way.