• Deborah Petrou

Moving on from Guilt.

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

I have been watching daytime TV recently. Let me rephrase that. I have been watching more daytime TV recently. From breakfast to late night news and have noticed a recurring theme. Aside from the obvious, everyone is talking about loss.

Weddings, birthdays, concerts, holidays - all cancelled. The emphasis is not just on events but on the loss of time spent with people. Of course for some, there is the ultimate loss of loved ones have died, but what about the people we don’t miss? It’s tricky to think about, trickier still to write about. There must be some of us who feel, dare I say it? Relief that they are having to keep their distance?

A straw poll among friends and colleagues confirms this. While the Easter weekend was undoubtedly difficult for many, it provided relief for others. Difficult relationship with a parent or in-law? Not looking forward to an enforced social gathering? You don’t have to spend time with them at the moment - great! Except that after the initial relief comes… guilt.

A person's sense of guilt usually relates to their moral code. Guilt isn't necessarily bad. It isn’t necessarily helpful either. It can cause physical symptoms, anxiety, depression, and shame to name a few. You only have to look at social media to see post after post of inspirational, positive prose. The current climate is being described as the opportunity of a lifetime!

Now you finally have time to:

  • catch up on reading

  • crochet that bedspread you’ve been meaning to.

  • decorate your house from top to bottom.

  • Spring clean!

  • take daily exercise.

Feeling negative? Put your worries into an imaginary balloon and ‘let it go’. As it floats up to the sky, so will your worries… Hmm, thanks for that.

What the inspirational posts neglect to mention is that this is also a time of global grief and loss. If we fail to stick to the lists of positive thinking/actions what happens? Yep, the old guilt monster comes calling. If you are well whilst others are suffering job losses, illness and ultimately death – you may end up feeling survivor guilt.

“I can’t get down because others have it much worse than me”.


"I have a job – I can work from home. How can I complain?"

That’s like saying that you can’t be depressed if you live in a nice house or have a good job. It’s just not true. Depression can affect anyone, anytime – so can guilt.

The dream v. the reality can lead to feelings of guilt.

How can we deal with guilt? Firstly, we can give ourselves permission to feel what we need to feel. That can be a massive challenge for some of us. Feel what you need to feel - without judgement. Let's take another look at that motivational to-do list while thinking about our wants and needs.

Catch up on reading:

Read if you want to but don’t feel pressured into it. A pile of books gathering dust by your bedside isn’t going to make you feel productive.


If you’re into crocheting – great. This also applies to knitting, embroidery and a host of other crafts. Accept that now may not be the time to learn a whole new skill – unless you want to.

Decorate: Again – if you can and if you want to. See the recurring theme here?

Spring clean:

See above.

Exercise daily: Again, see above. Do what you can. Yes, physical exercise releases ‘feel good’ endorphins but pushing yourself to start and maintain a whole new exercise regime is setting yourself up for failure which will only lead to a feeling of guilt - see where I am going with this?

In a recent TV interview about life in lockdown, the comedian and presenter Sandi Toksvig put this into perspective, saying “My wife keeps telling me that I must exercise every day because we are in lockdown. I don’t know why because I never exercised before”.

These are unprecedented times. It is also OK to have an day when all you want to do is:

  • Sleep.

  • Eat Chocolate (or crisps or popcorn).

  • Watch TV.

  • Do nothing.

  • Cry or Laugh – why not?

  • Grieve.

  • Talk to friends – or not.

We could try the balloon thing - put the guilt into an imaginary balloon and let it go… watching as it floats up to the sky. But seriously, guilt can stop us from moving forward. The definition also describes it as self-reproach and self-condemnation. Really harsh terms that do little to instill a sense of well-being.

If you are able to think objectively about what has happened to make you feel guilty, chances are you'll see that you don’t deserve to feel as badly as you do. However, when guilt affects your daily life or relationships, it’s important to work through these feelings. A professional can help by providing a safe space for you to explore your feelings and listen without judgement.

Give yourself permission to do what you need to do. To feel what you need to feel and don't underestimate the power of kindness and self care.

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