Not Guilty! 12 Common Things We Feel Guilty About Even Though We Shouldn’t

One of our sons recently started his second year of law school.  I love the phone calls I have with him when he updates me on what he’s learning in his classes. Call me crazy, but I love it when he throws terms like appeals, clemency, Habeas Corpus, punitive damage, recusal, malfeasance, and arraignment around.  

Law has always fascinated me. If I could “do it over again” I’d go back to school and get an additional degree in law. I love to read and write so a heavy load of reading cases and writing memorandums wouldn’t intimidate me one bit.  John Grisham legal thrillers are some of my favorites and I can’t even begin to count the number of hours I’ve spent over the years watching “Law and Order,” “Matlock,” and “Perry Mason” reruns on TV.  

Here’s a bit of Lynn Trivia for you: 1) I love (and I do mean love) when I get the letter from the county courthouse informing me that I’ve been picked for jury service and 2) I was the foreman for the last jury I was on! 

How Do You Plead? Guilty or Innocent?

On a recent call, my son was telling me about a case (he wasn’t divulging any confidential information) regarding a motorcyclist who was injured when a dog ran in front of him on the highway. The gist of the case was: Who was at fault (guilty)?  The dog owner or the motorcyclist? 

Because I’m a little nerdy when it comes to words and their meanings, I started “googling” guilty, innocent, burden of proof, acquittal, circumstantial evidence and other legalese. 

If you look up the word GUILT in the dictionary this is what you’ll find:

Guilt (gilt) 

noun

  1. the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability:
  2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
  3. conduct involving the commission of such crimes, wrongs, etc.

The last word of the second definition sums me up quite well. Imagined. 

Up until a few years ago, I had a knack for unnecessarily feeling guilty about all sorts of things. To top it off, I’d often pair the guilt I felt with the words “I’m sorry”- even when I hadn’t actually offended anyone or made an error. 

Can you relate? 

Not Guilty, Your Honor!

Are you a chronic (or maybe just semi-chronic) “imagined guilt thinker” or “over apologizer” like I used to be?  Not sure? Here are some examples of things I used to feel guilty about. See if you can relate to any of them. 

I felt guilty about…

  • Having Me Time. 
  • Changing My Mind 
  • Expressing My Feelings
  • My Success
  • Not Responding Immediately
  • Forgetting Things
  • Having a Differing Viewpoint
  • My Past
  • Not Being a Perfect Parent
  • Treating Myself to Nice Things
  • My Appearance
  • “Bothering” People

What’s Your Burden of Proof?

Did any of those seem familiar to you? If they did, don’t worry!  Let’s break each of these “imagined guilts” down and see if we can find proof of guilt or find the actual innocence in them.

  1. Having Me Time. Putting yourself first isn’t selfish. You can’t feed into anyone else until you’ve fed into yourself first.  It’s critical to your well-being and mental health that you take time to get away and breathe. Do things like taking a spa day, take a walk, read a book, take a drive, go shopping, get a mani/pedi. Taking care of yourself and focusing on your needs will make you a better YOU and should be a priority.  
  2. Changing Your Mind.  Changing your mind every now and then is completely normal. Even our elected officials do this on occasion (insert facepalming emoji here). Maybe it’s because your circumstances have changed and you now choose to go in another direction. Or maybe you just don’t feel like doing something anymore and you want to bow out of the engagement. Changing your mind about something is perfectly okay.
  3. Expressing Your Feelings. Processing and talking about your feelings is good for you! Hurt, frustration, pain, sadness, and anger are all-natural and healthy parts of the human experience. When you put a lid on those feelings you won’t thrive (been there-done that!). The way to heal and move through painful or uncomfortable experiences is to let yourself feel. Don’t worry about someone’s reaction to you expressing your feelings. Whether they’re comfortable with it or not isn’t your problem. 
  4. Success. “Be humble no matter what”, “don’t get too big for your britches” and “remember where you came from”-these are all mindsets that need to go. You’ve worked hard to get where you are and you should be proud of it! Don’t diminish your success. Embrace it!
  5. Not Responding Immediately. Don’t forget you have needs and priorities just like everyone else.  If you’re concerned about offending someone then send a very brief message explaining what’s on your plate and that you’ll get back to them. The world won’t end if you don’t immediately respond to a text, email, or phone call.
  6. Forgetting Things. Don’t beat yourself up for forgetting important dates (like your mother-in-laws birthday or your kids’ picture day at school). You’re human. If you’re like most people you’re juggling many plates and wading through chaos. Forgetting things every now and then is bound to happen. 
  7. Having a Different Viewpoint.  You’re not meant to be a cookie cutter imitation of anyone. You are unique. You’ve got a unique personality and unique views about what is going on around you. You’re entitled to having your own viewpoint. 
  8. Your Past. Your past is just that – the past. You’re not the same person you once were. So what if you made mistakes? Everyone does. You can’t hit the rewind button no matter how much you wish you could. What you can do is be in charge of your today and tomorrow by learning from your past mistakes and moving forward.  
  9. Not Being a Perfect Parent. There is not a single perfect parent roaming this earth. There just isn’t. When you can take this truth to heart and let yourself off the hook you’ll be happier and more at ease in your role. Plus, it’s a great lesson for children to see a parent make mistakes from time to time just like they do. 
  10. Treating Yourself. While it’s selfish to only care about yourself (which I know you don’t!), you should realize that your happiness is a priority too. So go ahead and buy the shoes, the purse, or the jeans. You deserve to splurge on yourself from time to time. 
  11. Your Appearance. Don’t apologize for the bad hair day you’re having, or the absence of makeup on your face, or the sweatpants that you’re wearing. You are who you are. Adopt a “what you see is what you get” attitude. Plus, having a “dress-down” day is a breath of fresh air every once in a while.
  12. “Bothering” People. Asking someone a question does not mean you’re bothering them! Instead of saying “I’m sorry, but I have a question” say “I’d like to ask a question please” or “excuse me, I need clarification on that.” Speak your mind. The only dumb question is the one that’s never asked!

You’ve Been Exonerated!

You’ve been exonerated. You’re off the hook! Learn to forgive yourself. Show yourself compassion (the same as you would a friend!). You’re not perfect. You never will be. Next time you feel guilty, stop and ask yourself “is this feeling reasonable or is this something that’s become a reflexive response from me?” and “do my feelings match the facts?”. 

Don’t let guilt control your life. Life is short (you already know this!). Take a deep breath, let go of the guilt, assert your innocence, and move on. There’s a great big life waiting for you to enjoy it!

Hey Friend, if you think you may be a chronic “guilt-ridden over apologizer” and you feel stuck, send me a note and let’s discuss. I’d love to help you!

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