5 Steps to Escaping the Trap of Guilty Anxiety

One of the foremost causes of anxiety in my life right now is feelings of guilt. I have never really learned how to properly process guilt and deal with it in a healthy way. This creates a lot of problems for me, considering the fact that I struggle so much with moral perfectionism and scrupulosity (read more about this in One Step Closer or Sunset Revelations). It doesn’t take much to make me feel extremely guilty. This guilt creates such a heavy burden on my heart and it physically manifests into anxiety symptoms.

Earlier this morning, Ryan and I had an interaction in which I responded with rudeness and disrespect. Though I quickly realized the error of my ways and apologized, it was too late. I had already acted hurtfully towards him. Luckily for me, Ryan is an extremely loving and gracious person. But apologizing doesn’t take away your wrong actions. Even though Ryan forgave me, I could tell that he was still disappointed and hurt when he left the room.

My heart sank. My chest started to feel tight. My arms started to tingle. My guilt hit me suddenly like a tidal wave, and I was desperate to stop it. It’s in these moments that I would normally run after Ryan and follow him around with a barrage of “I’m sorrys” and pester him to “forgive me” until I could actually feel forgiven. But this approach never works for me because it is not actually about being forgiven. It’s not about me actually caring about the way that my actions hurt someone or about wanting to make it right. It’s about me looking for that person to somehow alleviate the anxiety that I am feeling. It’s about me looking for reprieve from my guilt.

When Ryan left the room this morning, I felt trapped. I couldn’t think straight and I didn’t know what to do next. Anxiety had taken over my brain and the irrational thoughts were setting in. But I decided to push through and address the issue instead of being compelled by my urge to “fix my feelings.” And as a result, I made some pretty great discoveries about how to handle my incapacitating guilt in a more productive way.

So the next time you are struck with guilty angst, here are five steps to help you navigate through the discomfort keep yourself from getting stuck in the guilt-anxiety trap!

1. Take a breather and collect your thoughts.

When you notice irrational thoughts and anxiety taking over your brain, just stop. Don’t do anything silly. Just sit down, take a few deep breaths, and ground yourself. Collect your thoughts. Ask yourself why you feel anxious. Ask yourself why you responded to the situation the way you did. Activate the logical side of your brain by answering a set of simple questions for yourself.

2. Tell yourself the truth.

Be honest with yourself about the situation. Look at the facts, and address your feelings based on what is true, rather than on what your irrational thoughts are telling you. In today’s situation, for me this meant reminding myself that Ryan truly does love me and has an abundance of grace for me. I had to remind myself that not “feeling” forgiven is my problem, not Ryan’s. My feelings were based in anxiety and not in truth.

3. Acknowledge your error and sit through the discomfort.

Sometimes your guilt may be unfounded (like I talked about in Apology Not Accepted), but other times you might do things that require some remorse. In these cases, it’s important to acknowledge the error of your ways—to yourself and to anyone else involved. Don’t just rush through the situation trying to alleviate your guilt and anxiety. Sit with the feeling of discomfort for a little while and realize that the other person is hurting too. I had to understand that my actions really hurt Ryan’s heart today. And solely focusing on my feelings and trying to get him to alleviate my anxiety would be even more hurtful to him. It would communicate that I don’t care at all about his experience. Apologies that come from that place are not genuine. I had to acknowledge the way the situation hurt him, not just the way it was affecting me.

4. Forgive yourself.

After you have had time to collect your thoughts, meditate on the truth, and acknowledge the reality of your actions, it’s time to forgive yourself. You may have made a mistake, but so does everyone else on planet earth. You are not unique in your failings. None of us are perfect, and we all mess up from time to time. It’s not going to do you any good to dwell on it. Instead, choose to forgive yourself, let it go, and learn from the experience. You will be better for it!

5. Take a step.

Finally, don’t sit around all day, stuck in your guilt. Though it may incapacitate you for a few moments, following the previous four steps should get you to a point where you feel like you can move again. So take a step. Any step! My first step today was writing this post. It helped me process my feelings and get “unstuck”. After you take that first step, whatever it may be for you, the next step will be a little bit easier and more clearly defined. My next step was talking to Ryan and giving him a genuine apology, rather than one that was motivated by anxiety and fear.

Don’t let anxiety and guilt hold you back any more. Use these five steps to address the underlying issues and to keep yourself from getting stuck in a rut.

Is there anything else you do to address guilty anxiety? Comment below and let me know what I missed!

8 thoughts on “5 Steps to Escaping the Trap of Guilty Anxiety

  1. Marie Abanga says:

    I love this one, rounding up to sleep now so can’t leave a ‘healthy serving of a comment’, just a tiny one to say hmm some coincidence here cause I barely finished scheduling a post coming up in a few cars pondering if our Past and pain defined or refined us. one of the ways to not let it keep you mental hostage for ad infinitum, is to face it, deal with it, be not ashamed of it and allow yourself to heal from it. Goodnight Talasi and all the best

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicolle says:

    Great post as always, Talasi! I had this problem last week (after saying no to beggars), which prompted me to write my post on how not to feel bad dealing with beggars. Thanks for sharing this and reminding me I shouldn’t keep feeling guilty about it. 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kaajas says:

    Number 4-great point- is the one I am not very good at. I can trace back how it has driven my feelings and sense of worth my whole life. Your points are well taken-Surely no one is as bad as me, or done more things they regret. While my life is much better now, I still have trouble forgiving myself. I just seem to be wired that way-

    Liked by 1 person

    • Talasi Guerra says:

      It can be so hard to forgive yourself for the past. I have gone through this, and it is never easy. I hope and pray that you will be able to reconcile with the past and let those things go so that they will no longer hold you back in life. Wishing you all the best on that journey ❤ ❤

      Like

  4. Janet says:

    Talasi you have some good and practical thoughts here about what we all experience. Our reactions to stress and differing opinions often happen because the root is in basic selfishness or pride. If only the other person would see things OUR way, the RIGHT way. So we lash out before processing that just maybe, they have a point to consider. Then of course, the guilt follows because the Holy Spirit gently prods us that we have hurt someone and need to forgive and be forgiven. Guilt isn’t necessarily bad, if it keeps us from hardening our hearts to others’ pain, right? Time will show us how to deal with these episodes so they become less and less as life goes on. Truly we are blessed in this life with those God gave us to walk through life with, to teach us these valuable lessons.
    I and my husband were profoundly touched by your moving and powerful musical medley tribute to Valerie at her funeral on Saturday. I wanted to introduce myself and tell you in person but the opportunity slipped away. God has mightily blessed you with an amazing talent! May you always continue to bless and inspire others with your music, writing and leadership, as He is using you for His kingdom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Talasi Guerra says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and leave such a thoughtful comment. Sorry that we didn’t have a chance to meet in person, but I appreciate you taking the time to stop by my blog and share this encouragement!!

      Like

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