Over the past two decades of consulting I’ve met a large number of clients who are letting blame and guilt negatively affect their lives. This blame and guilt not only motivates their actions in negative ways, but also adds stress which reflects in increased system imbalances.
For many years I considered that this was just a factor of temperament – some people are more prone to feeling guilty and being very particular about their behavior and habits. However, over the years I have started to see a clearer connection between education, information and these negative feelings – as people are becoming more educated and informed about ways they can make themselves healthier, they are using this same education to blame themselves for perceived wrongdoings.
It seems the more people learn about what they can do to “help themselves” (by eating better, exercising more, using herbs, etc…) the more they assume that they did something wrong to begin with and that all their suffering is 100% their fault. While this is sometimes partially true, it is not always 100% true, and sometimes it is not true at all.
Many clients I’ve worked with have done nothing “wrong” to be in the position they are in today. On the whole, I meet a large number of self-motivated people who have good diets and healthy lifestyles. These same clients may complain of imbalances that they’ve been told by their doctor come from a genetic source. However, they still blame themselves in some way. I have met an equal number of clients that blame their “conditions” on their weight gain, age, or less-than-perfect diet but when I ask them to remember their life as a child they often recall having the same issues, in some form, as a child.
However, their perception is that they are to blame in some way – “perhaps I should have eaten two salads every day instead of one” or “I really should exercise 5 times a week instead of 3” or “I really should filter my water differently”. People are learning how to improve their physical and emotional well-being, but in the process they are feeling reprimanded by this knowledge. One cannot assume, however, that because apples are healthy that their lack of apple consumption is what is making them unhealthy. It is not logical, for example, that if someone has suffered from anxiety since they were a child, that their weight gain is causing them to be anxious. It may be making it worse, but it cannot be the cause if they weighed half as much as an anxious child. Just because something makes a condition worse does not always mean it was the cause of that condition.
When people use negative emotions to guide their journey it causes more stress and imbalance. Stress has been proven in numerous scientific studies to have negative effects on the physical and emotional health of people (see Mayo Clinic article as example).
When Hippocrates wrote and taught about healing in 480BC he wanted to make sure that the knowledge to improve one’s health was available to the “common people”. When Culpepper wrote an herbal “for the people” in 1643 he intended that his teachings to help the “common man”. Today, there are numerous websites, campaigns, magazines and classes that continue this tradition of sharing health information with the general public.
However, one must be careful to use this information to help balance and enrich their lives and not use this information to find reasons for guilt and blame. Achieving well-being is a process of moving forward – not a process of finding blame and punishing oneself.
Always remember that you can make positive life-changes without carrying the burden of guilt along on your journey to wellness. You can leave that baggage at the check-in counter and continue making the same positive changes you want to make – more exercise, more water, more sleep and more whole foods – without dwelling on what you feel you “should have done” before. In some cases, perhaps you “should have”, but in many cases a person simply came into this world with a set of challenges and needs to learn what those challenges are so they can better adapt their lifestyle to them. In all cases – dwelling on past “mistakes” or “perceived mistakes” will evoke stress in most people.
Solving the mystery of “why” is always an enjoyable pursuit, and often useful – but it is better suited as a tool for progress rather than a tool for self-punishment. Finally, moving forward without the added stress will increase your chances of success. Don’t dwell on the words “It’s my fault”. Dwell on an affirmation instead such as, “I am making positive changes in my life every day”.