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by John McGran, Columnist

 
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There's guilt, which is a good thing or we'd be seeing a lot more serial killers on the streets. And then there is toxic guilt, which is the powerful force that holds us back from enjoying our life to the fullest.

Toxic guilt stops us in our tracks. It keeps us from losing the extra pounds... from finding the mate of our dreams... from landing that big job we've always wanted... from loving ourselves enough to face our issues and move on.

Who says? Licensed professional counselor Susan Carrell. After listening to one sad story after another in her practice, she wrote the definitive book on how you and I can take charge.

"You gotta have guilt -- it helps us control our behaviors," Susan tells Diet.com in this exclusive interview.

"If there is no guilt, people are out for themselves. Think of anti-social personalities… criminals like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson.

"Then there's the toxic guilt where we feel so badly for something in our life that we put our joy on the shelf.

How does toxic guilt affect us?

"It keeps you from living life like you want to live it -- living life on own terms," Susan says.

Susan offered up the example of a college student who was in her junior year of pre-med but had wanted to change majors for a whole year.

"She really didn’t want to be a doctor," Susan notes. "She wanted to be a chemistry teacher, but had not been able to pull trigger and change.

"I asked her if guilt is what was keeping her from changing. Turns out she didn't want to disappoint her parents."

Susan says we sometimes confuse depression with guilt.

"It's acceptable to be depressed -- TV and media promote pills because it's OK to be depressed," she says.

"Your source of suffering may not be depression "- it may be guilt which can cause depression."

Anxiety is another emotion that can actually be triggered by our toxic guilt.

Susan knows she is preaching something that makes most of us feel quite uneasy. But she promises that if we face up to our toxic guilt, we can overcome it and enjoy life to the fullest.

"Nobody wants to be guilty," she says. We hate the idea that it's our own darn fault. It is one of the most difficult emotions."

"Fess up and you'll feel freer," she says. "You'll find freedom… you're getting loose from the huge burden that controls you and you'll begin to see that you can have your own life!"

Ready to get a major weight off your shoulders? Maybe you are in a bad marriage, but you're staying put out of a misguided loyalty. Maybe you worry what others will think rather than what matters to you.

Susan says women suffer more from toxic guilt than men. A woman's behavior is so much more narrowly defined. One example: assertiveness.

"It's a highly valued skill in society but for a woman who goes a millimeter over the line… she's suddenly aggressive.

"An assertive male over line... well, he’s really strong. It's a double standard."

Now, here are Susan Carrell's...

5 Steps to Escaping Toxic Guilt


STEP 1: SPEAK THE TRUTH

Find someone you trust -- someone who won’t judge you -- and speak the truth of your situation:

• I don’t love my husband anymore
• My kids are driving me crazy and I don’t like them much
• I’m sick of my in-laws running my life
• I’m gay
• I’m pregnant and I don’t want to be
• My friend is draining the life out of me and I want rid of her
• I hate my job
• I want to move

People with Toxic Guilt will never get over it unless they do this. And although it may not be not be easy, the emotional release is worth it. It is THE place to start.

STEP 2: CLAIM TERRITORY

This is the most important step. People with Toxic Guilt have lousy boundaries. Boundaries are emotional fences. Inside the fence belongs to you; outside the fence belongs to someone else. People with Toxic Guilt do not feel they have the right to their own property. They must learn that they do.

Claim territory by making new decisions.

• Decide you will not have the whole family at your house for Thanksgiving next year
• Decide you will not return phone calls to your needy friend anymore
• Decide you will take a vacation and leave the kids at home
• Decide you will fix what you want for dinner tomorrow night
• Decide you will play golf next Saturday

Using new language

• No, thank you
• Excuse me, but I was next
• I’m sorry, but that’s more then I’m willing to do
• I know you don’t agree, but it’s my decision
• Thank you, but I think I’ll pass

Making new rules

• Take the house back from your kids
• Give in-laws and extended family your schedule for the family vacation
• Tell your adult children how much more money they can expect from you and for how long (or tell them there will be no more money for them)
• Tell your neighbor she will have to give you 24 hours notice if she wants you to take her to the grocery store
• Tell your friends that you and your husband stay home on Friday nights

STEP 3: BRACE FOR THE STORM

When you stop accommodating others, they won’t like it.

Hard step because people with Toxic Guilt want to please everyone. It's worth the discomfort of disappointing others when you find how free you feel!

Enlist support systems.

• Divorce support groups
• Singles groups
• If you’ve decided to start exercising and you know your family won’t like it, don’t exercise at home, JOIN A GYM to find support
• Find a new church if your old one would not support your decision

STEP 4: RIDE THE WIND

Let go of control. People with Toxic Guilt like to be in control. They like to be assured that everything will turn out good for everyone and that they will be liked in the process.

Control is an illusion. It's more fun to let go and ride the wind.

Although it sounds easy, it is very difficult for people with Toxic Guilt to let go. Stepping back and relinquishing control will feel counter-intuitive to people who are hyper-responsible and rescuer-types. They will have to be very intentional.

Another important part of this step is the act of forgiveness. If you forgive other people for the storm they send your way once you stop accommodating them, it’s much easier to let go of their critical responses. Learning to forgive others enables you to forgive yourself. When people do not respond as you would like them to, you must accept that what is, is.

STEP 5: PATROL BORDERS

The power of the familiar is profound and even if your old habits interfered with living life as ...    Continue



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