Be honest. How many of your actions and decisions today were driven by guilt? Were you trying to relieve guilt that you already felt, or trying to avoid feeling guilty later?
Using guilt as a motivator starts a chain reaction that can very self-destructive. This is true for everyone, but for someone in recovery from an eating disorder, food addiction, compulsive eating, anorexia or bulimia, this pattern can compound the emotional difficulties you’re already dealing with.
When you base your decisions on feelings, including guilt, you tune out rational thought, as well as the self-nurturing intuitive thought that is available by making a spiritual connection.
Let’s say you agree to babysit your friend’s kids, even though you already had plans that you now have to cancel. You felt obligated and worried about how your friend might respond if you said no. You didn’t think you could deal with your feelings of guilt.
By saying yes to your friend, you may have avoided the guilt, but you’ve put yourself at risk for feeling resentful because you gave up doing something you were looking forward to. And the discomfort of that resentment can drive you right back towards using food, weight obsession, purging or over-exercising as a coping mechanism.
What’s even worse is how guilt and resentment can strain your relationships with the people whose love and support is so vital to your recovery.
If you want to stop being a slave to your guilt, you can start by getting more awareness of how it’s showing up in your life. Your journal is a great tool for tracking and reviewing these notes. You can also share your writing with a therapist or trusted friend to get feedback and insights.
If you want to stop guilt in its tracks, try to do less “mind reading” or projecting your own thoughts onto others. For example, maybe you think your friend will think you don’t care about her or her kids if you say so no to her request.
Again, turn to your journal. Write out all the things you imagine the other person is thinking or feeling. Seeing them in black and white may help you to realize that you can’t be sure whether they’re true. Getting some objective feedback can help here as well.
There is nothing wrong with being a generous, giving person who does nice things for others. In fact, giving back can help you progress in your recovery. Giving also has a spiritual effect, and is one of the ways I incorporate spirituality into my life.
As with everything, balance is the key. If you’re feeling out of balance, chances are that you’re giving out of guilt.