Making a decision that defies what others want or expect is sometimes necessary for your wellbeing. You can love your friends and family and still make decisions they disagree with, and you don’t need to feel guilty for putting your needs first.
As long as you’re not hurting anybody, you have the innate right to live according to what makes you happy. You aren’t obligated to be responsible for anybody else, not even family members. It’s natural to leave others behind as you grow, and feeling guilty about it will postpone your life’s journey.
Life isn’t an easy road, and it’s even harder when you live according to others’ expectations. Here’s some advice for developing the capacity to make difficult decisions without feeling guilty:
Understand that other people don’t cause your guilty feelings
You know that look your dog gives you when you’re eating a steak as if they didn’t devour an entire can of food five minutes ago? It’s not your dog that causes your guilt – it’s your self-talk. My dog will think I’m cruel if I don’t share at least a few bites. I can’t eat this in front of her; what if she’s still hungry?
You know your dog got fed, so there’s no justifiable reason to feel guilty. When there’s nothing you’ve done to feel legitimate guilt, you can guarantee your self-talk is causing the problem.
Redirect your thoughts and don’t entertain the guilt. You are always in control of your self-talk.
Every tough decision is an act of self-love.
Life presents all of us with tough decisions. Maybe your oldest child won’t get a job and expects you to continue supporting him or her. Or, you’re about to marry someone your family doesn’t like. It’s not easy to kick your child out or plan a wedding your family won’t show up for, but making those decisions is an act of self-love.
If you don’t pursue your happiness, who will? If you don’t live your life now, when will you? Life is too short to waste it trying to avoid hurting other people’s feelings over decisions that are ultimately life-positive.
Walking away sets the other person free.
Loving somebody and walking away from them aren’t mutually exclusive. Sometimes it’s necessary. Walking away sets everyone free, and when you’re walking away from an abusive or unworkable relationship, you give the other person a chance to recover.
That’s a lesson Janet Howe learned when she divorced her heroin-addicted husband. She tolerated his addiction for six years, feeling guilty that leaving would mean giving upon him. The experience was tiring and painful, but she realized the correctness of her decision in the end.
Walking away from her husband interrupted his routine, and he went into a long-term rehab program. He got sober and now works as a youth wilderness guide. The experience taught Janet how to stand on her own and put her wellbeing first without feeling guilty.
Understand that people don’t like change
Sometimes people object to your decisions because it interrupts their familiar routine. Be understanding of their feelings and at the same time stick to your decision. Ask if there’s anything you can do to make it easier for them to adjust to the new situation, but don’t offer to abandon your choice without a sound reason.
For instance, say you’ve got friends who use your garage regularly for band practice. They’ll be understandably upset if you decide to convert your garage into a studio apartment to rent out. Be compassionate, but don’t avoid pursuing your renovation because it will inconvenience someone else. They will find another solution.
Saying no takes practice – start today.
Look at lottery winners for the perfect example of how to say no. When someone wins a jackpot, friends and family come out of the woodwork requesting money. The requests are selfish, and smart lottery winners say no. The ones who give their money away regret it quickly because it’s never enough to satisfy the people they gave it to – they almost always ask for more. Saying no from the start avoids future problems.
There will always be someone who looks at you with puppy dog eyes, begging you not to follow through with a decision you’ve made. Don’t allow your mind to wander down the path of guilt. Life is too short to live for everyone else. Take care of yourself first, and then you can take care of others.