And the Grinch with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: how could it be so?
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!”
The Grinch may have been perplexed by it at first, but it’s something most of us know to be true: the best gifts can never be wrapped up and placed under the tree. Instead, the greatest gifts are shared experiences of love, laughter, and gratitude. Learning this was life-changing for the Grinch—a gift that would never go out of style or grow stale.
This year, I encourage you to try giving a similar gift . . . to yourself. The gift? Letting go of excessive guilt and the heavy burden it inflicts.
I promise it will be a life-changing gift. Here’s why:
It’s true that guilt is a natural response that occurs after doing something cruel, unlawful, or negligent. Guilt can, and does, push people to make amends, apologize, and change bad habits. But excessive, unwarranted guilt can also be a burden so great that it wreaks havoc on your state of mind and prevents you from fully living life.
If you learn how to let go of that guilt, however, and forgive yourself, you’ll reclaim your life and discover a new lightness that helps you be more productive, empathetic, and capable of loving others.
The process of letting go starts like most things do: by identifying the problem. Sit down and think honestly about why you feel guilty. As you think about it, divide a sheet of paper into two columns. In the first column, write down anything you are doing that is actually wrong, that harms others, or that is unlawful and/or sinful.
In the second column, write down the things you are doing that you feel irrationally guilty about—things that either aren’t under your control or that don’t matter to the bigger picture. If you don’t know what things belong in the second column, consider the following:
Telling people no
Not making it to every social event you’re invited to
Not finishing everything on your to-do list
Not giving your kids everything they want
Missing a workout
Treating yourself to something you enjoy
Taking time to take care of yourself
Not being perfect
Having a messy house, a messy desk, or a messy car
Doing something (parenting, choosing a career, learning, etc.) differently than your friends and neighbors do
Having a pile of dishes in the sink, laundry on the floor, or papers on your desk
Most people who have excessive, unwarranted guilt find that everything they write down falls under the second column. Taping this list on your mirror or another prominent location will help you remember that feeling guilty about these things is irrational.
The next step is to internalize three fundamental truths about guilt:
1. Justifiable guilt typically moves you to action; irrational guilt throws up roadblocks that lead to inaction.
As such, justifiable guilt is relieved when recompense is made, either by apologizing, changing a habit, or repenting of a sin. Irrational guilt drags on and preoccupies the mind.
2. Justifiable guilt is universal; irrational guilt is self-induced.
Most people feel some guilt when they tell a lie, spread gossip, break a law, or make a mistake that hurts another person. If you don’t believe another person should feel guilty for doing the same thing you are doing, then your guilt is irrational and unjustifiable. If it’s okay that Brett missed yesterday’s workout, or Susan fed the kids cereal for dinner three nights in a row, or Jane couldn’t make it to last night’s party, it’s okay that you did too.
3. Justifiable guilt promotes change within yourself; irrational guilt promotes resentment and anger.
This is because irrational guilt is frequently a byproduct of comparing yourself to others. Comparison leads to feelings of inadequacy, which can then turn into resentment toward those you measure yourself against.
Once you’ve internalized the truth about irrational guilt, the next step is to give yourself permission to let go of it. But don’t just make the promise in your mind; write it down and tell a trusted love one about your intentions so they can hold you accountable and remind you of your promise if needed.
Finally, begin a deliberate practice of letting go. When you feel irrational guilt coming on, make a conscious effort to push it away. Then move on, do something else, and remind yourself that you are practicing forgiveness. If you can’t seem to move on, find a professional counselor who can talk things through with you and give you actual assignments to put the lesson into practice.
Essential Oil Tips
As you learn to let go of guilt, consider starting a daily ritual. Diffuse or apply one of the blends listed below while repeating aloud the affirmations that accompany each one.
To remind yourself of your divine goodness and trust in it: Diffuse 5 drops wild orange, 4 drops frankincense, and 2 drops each of clary sage, lavender, and peppermint. Repeat this affirmation: “I trust the goodness within me. I listen to my inner voice. I trust the process of life.”
To strengthen self-worth: Blend 2 drops each bergamot, fennel, frankincense, geranium, and ylang ylang in a glass vial. Apply to the core of the body or the bottoms of the feet. Repeat this affirmation: “I love and accept myself.”
To facilitate letting go: Blend 3 drops each of frankincense and geranium with 2 drops each of myrrh and rose, 1 drop helichrysum, and 1 teaspoon fractionated coconut oil in a glass roller bottle.
Roll over the forehead, neck, and temples throughout the day, repeating this affirmation each time: “I choose to live this day to the fullest and release the burden of irrational guilt. I give myself permission to make mistakes, to love myself, and to look forward to a bright future.”