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“I feel so guilty for eating that second helping”, “I feel so bad that I didn’t workout today”, “I feel so guilty for saying no to him.” I think the majority of us can admit to saying something along these lines at least once in our lives. Guilt is something that I have struggled with so much in my life. It always seemed like this illusive feeling that I could not control or understand. I would get in a really destructive cycle where guilt would lead to negative self-talk, then guilt for the negative talk, and so on. 

In therapy, I was able to see through the facade of guilt. My therapist explained to me that guilt is the relationship rule violation emotion. We all have rules for ourselves, whether conscious or subconscious. An example could be a rule to brush your teeth before bed or to put on shoes before you leave the house. These rules help us function on a daily basis. When we forget to brush our teeth before bed, we feel guilty because our brain is recognizing this rule violation and making you feel bad so that you don’t violate that rule again. This is a helpful system in general. 

The problems I have encountered are when I have unreasonable and unfair rules for myself, usually subconsciously. A good example of this feeling is when I feel intense guilt for saying no to someone. What I have to ask myself is what rule have I violated to make me feel like this? Well, it seems like I have a subconscious rule that I am not allowed to say no to people, and that I am not allowed to prioritize myself. Once you identify what rule you violated, you have to ask yourself if that is a rule you want to have. In this scenario, the answer is no! I don’t want to not allow myself to say never say no! These realizations usually help dissipate the guilt. 

Another area of my life where I usually feel guilt is in my relationships. I feel guilty for feeling too much or not feeling enough; I feel guilty for choosing myself over someone else; I feel guilty for sharing too much or sharing too little. The list goes on. All these feelings expose what subconsciously I think relationships should be: I need to censor my feelings to please others, I need to always prioritize them, and I need to share enough to keep them around but not so much that I scare them away. Wow. Who wants to be in a relationship like that?? Not me! These are rules that I really did have for myself that I am working to change. The change will not be immediate. However, if you begin to recognize these patterns and rules that are most destructive to you, it can help motivate change. 

Identifying these rules is the best strategy I have found for relieving myself of the weight of guilt. Guilt is a heavy emotion. It is not illusive or impossible to understand. Above all else, before you work to get rid of unnecessary guilt (which is so important) take a moment to validate your emotions. There are reasons we have the rules, and usually we make these rules to protect ourselves from pain, discomfort, and rejection. Your emotions are valid; your guilt is valid, but maybe it is time to take that weight off your shoulders.

Margaret Bovard is a senior at Furman University from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and she is a Health Science major. In addition to being a writer for HerCampus, Margaret works in a cardiology lab on campus and participates in theater. She is very passionate about sustainability and hopes to be an alpaca farmer one day. Margaret is an old soul, in her free time she knits, cross stitches, and complains about her back pain :). She can not wait to see the impact that HerCampus will have on Furman's Campus.