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Watch out for non-productive guilt

Question:

I worked hard for 48 years, now I am retired and drawing a pension. My question to you is, “Is it normal to have feelings of guilt for being retired?” Most days I can do chores, projects or whatever comes along, without a thought of guilt. Then all of a sudden I feel guilty about this money I am getting, when I’m not doing anything to earn it. How do I get to the point where I don’t feel embarrassed or guilty about being retired?

Answer:

You must change the way you see your situation and consciously choose to replace feelings of guilt with something more productive.

There are situations where experiencing guilt is appropriate and productive, namely when you do something wrong or mistreat someone. In these situations, a little guilt is a good thing because it motivates you to change, but experiencing guilt when you have done nothing wrong is not appropriate and doesn’t serve anyone.

Feeling a sense of guilt because you aren’t working for a living (when you have worked hard your entire life to get here) is unproductive guilt and a waste of energy. It also prevents you from showing up for other people. Your guilt keeps you focused on yourself and your fear of not being good enough, and in this place you might not see other people and their needs.

You cannot experience guilt and love at the same time. Guilt is about you, love is about other people. The fastest way out of guilt is to focus on your love for someone else.

Your guilt may also be tied to your fears of what other people think of you. If other people (and their judgment of you) weren’t in the mix, you might not feel guilty at all.

If this is true for you, remember people who judge you are usually jealous or worried they won’t get what you have. This fear of loss may, at times, cause them to cast you as the bad guy (because it subconsciously makes them feel better) but that doesn’t make it true. You are not a bad person because your situation makes them feel insecure or unsafe.

The way they choose to feel about your situation is not your problem.

You have no control over how they choose to feel, and it is not your responsibility to feel guilty so they feel better. It would be more productive for you to focus on validating, caring about and encouraging these people, choosing love instead of fear.

You may also need to work on your self-esteem. You might see yourself as less valuable because you aren’t working anymore. You may have used your job as your main source of validation and without it your sense of self-worth may have taken a hit. You may need to work on reinventing a new sense of self-worth around who you are now. (You may want to get some help from a coach or counselor to do this.)

The following is my recipe for increasing self-esteem and eliminating non-productive guilt:

1) Get busy doing productive things, learning and growing every day. If you stay active and constantly work on improving yourself, your life will have purpose and meaning.

2) Give yourself permission to be a work in progress (a student in the classroom of life). Choose to believe there are no mistakes, only perfect lessons. Embrace the lessons and let guilt and shame go.

3) Trust that your value isn’t on the line and what other people think of you is irrelevant. If they are jealous or judgmental, it is because they are afraid for themselves. It has nothing to do with you. Choose to love them instead of feeling guilty.

4) Choose to see yourself and your value accurately. Choose to see other people as the same as you (not better or worse). Choose to remember your value is infinite and absolute no matter what anyone thinks or does. Your value is the same whether you are working or not.

5) Focus on loving, validating and lifting other people, especially the people who judge you. Push the limits of your love and validate the people you think don’t need it and the people who think they are better than you. You will feel powerful and amazing when you do this.

6) Ask yourself this question often, “Does this attitude serve me or anyone else?” If the answer is no, immediately replace your negative thoughts with something that does serve you. Try gratitude, love or trust.

You have the power to choose your attitude in every moment, make sure you are claiming that power and consciously choosing a productive mindset. You are the one who gets to decide how you will feel about your life. You will stop feeling guilty — as soon as you decide not to.

You can do this.



Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of ldslifecoaching.com and claritypointcoaching.com. She is a life coach and speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem.
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