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Dealing with Guilt

Five years ago Lenny made an error that brought her guilt and embarrassment. A colleague prepared a lunch for Lenny and her husband. The colleague invited two more guests for lunch.

“I would have been happy to attend,” said Lenny, “but I wrote the lunch date on the wrong day in my schedules. When the lunch was held, David and I were at the mall.” Lenny did not realize the problem until the following morning, when she listened to the colleague's hurt voice on her cell phone. “At that very moment I wanted to disappear,” Lenny says.

Instantly she asked for forgiveness on the phone, went to the colleague's office to apologize in person, then made a more formal three-page letter of regret and delivered it to the colleague, together with one dozen roses. Seven months later she delivered more flowers to mark the half-year anniversary of her mistake. Her colleague had already forgiven her by this period, but now called and reiterated, “Lenny, you are forgiven!”

At one time or another, a person creates a mistake, makes an error of perception, or does or says something wrong. The outcome produces emotions of guilt. If guilt is not handled properly, its effects can be damaging. Emotions of guilt can batter self-esteem, minimize self-confidence, and ruin the quality of life. Guilt can absolutely ruin a relationship. But a person can handle with guilt practically and even creatively.

Acknowledge That Guilt Is a Warning Signal

Allow guilt be an encouraging emotional instrument alerting you to the truth that something may be incorrect. Whenever guilt alerts you to observe a second time and change behavior, it turns into an ally and not an adversary.

In 1972, when songwriter and singer Neil Diamond was at the peak of his career, he unexpectedly took several years off. The basis for that decision was an guilty conscience. “I went through one marriage and two children and was into my second marriage when I told myself, 'Wait. I'd better step back and take a look at what I am doing and where I am heading.”' He said, “I did not want this marriage to end in separation. I took four years to get to know my kids, my wife, and myself.” By acting to the warning signal of guilt, Neil Diamond not only avoided repeating the same errors but emerged from those off years a more calmed, happier person.

Acknowledge the Meaning of Guilt

Guilty emotions have a good value when people react to them and right behavior that is destructive, offensive, inappropriate, and hurtful. Guilt allows people to learn, grow, and mature. People who do made mistakes to themselves or to others should feel responsible for their own actions. If the person’s guilt encourages them to do good things, to stabilize the bad, if it turns them to a more careful person, more caring, it will have been productive guilt.

Have Time to Examine Guilt

Guilt feelings can sometimes be reduced, corrected, and even eradicated after they are carefully examined. This was an effective plan for Sally, an advertising agency executive. As a full-time working mom she always feels guilty every time her nine-year-old daughter became ill at school. “I would condemn myself for being at the office and feel very guilty that I was not at home for my daughter or that I was not having more time with her,” she says.

However, Sally has educated herself to examine her guilt this way: “After the first wave of guilt I relax myself and attempt to view at it realistically. I question myself, “Do I want to quit my work?” My answer is always “no”. “Is there another way to my present situation?” My answer is also “no”. So I analyze it carefully and always arrive to the same resolution – it is difficult to work fulltime and raise a daughter at the same time, but the other ways are far less desirable to me. Because Sally could examine her guilt, she effectively minimized it and does not permit it to ruin her or her daughter's life.

Respond Logically

After examining your guilt, respond rationally and appropriately. If you have done something or forgot to accomplish something for which you feel guilty, then take remedial steps. Ask forgiveness, apologize, or make amends if practical. Do not let emotions of guilt drive you to the limit, as it did one man when his younger brother passed way. The surviving brother instructed to create a tombstone for the grave of his brother that was a life-size copy of a Mercedes-Benz, finished with antenna and windshield wipers. The luxury car was made of fine stone from a quarry. Three sculptors spent more than a year creating it. The cost of the tombstone was staggering. And the basis for that elaborate tombstone was guilt. For many years he had promised to give his brother a Mercedez Benz but had been very busy to do so. When his brother died unexpectedly, the surviving brother was overwhelmed by guilt over his negligence. However, his reaction was both irrational and extreme. In his case, a well-thought and more rational reaction would have been to donate the large sum of money to a charity to honor his brother, mixed with a personal settlement to act upon commitments and promises made.


Always Remember That You're Not Perfect

“How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself,” declared the first-century Roman writer Publilius Syrus. Don’t forget, you are not perfect. Do not spend great energy in self-hatred or self-blame making yourself sorrowful.

Learn From the Experience

There is no reason in repeating the same errors. Recall at what went wrong. Do your best not to let it occur again. Lenny definitely learned from her error. Now she triple checks the every single appointment’s date while she is writing it. She stopped writing notes by the telephone with intent of recording them in her schedule book afterwards.

Drop It, Forget It, and Move Forward

After you have taken all necessary steps to correct behavior and make amends, drop it, forget it, and move forward. One of the most significant of all skills is forgetting. To be successful and happy you must improve the skill to tell yourself – forget it! Do not allow guilt to devastate your life. Move away from life experiences that are finished. Remember your lesson, be enlightened, avoid worthless postmortems over errors, and progress your life forward.

By using these sorts of techniques you can handle emotions of guilt in a productive manner that will lead to better quality and enjoyment of life. Additionally, you will also recognize the contrast between healthy guilt that signals an alarm when something is absolutely wrong and unhealthy guilt that grows on a life of its own and resembles no connection to reality.

Society | Self-Help


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