I’ve heard some people say that guilt is a useless emotion that achieves nothing other than making you feel bad. The truth is that all emotions have a crucial and valuable intention for us.
It is a little known secret that all emotions are a message from your own inner guidance system. It operates at a subconscious, intuitive level and it’s job is to alert you to something affecting you that requires your attention, so that you can respond in your highest and best interest.
It is important to pay attention to your feelings rather than suppress or deny them. They will help you to learn from your life experiences, grow and evolve into the best version of yourself.
WHAT IS GUILT?
The feeling of guilt is a message to self that says ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’. With every fibre of your being you want to turn the clock back and do it differently. You accept responsibility for having caused or contributed to the problem. You have a terrible sinking feeling. Your intentions were good, you meant no harm, but your actions caused an unexpected problem nevertheless. You may well attract the displeasure and judgement of others, which adds to your pain. The consequence of your actions was unfair to others and often yourself too. In short, guilt is ‘anger at self’ for having made a mistake.
WHEN IS GUILT A BURDEN?
Many people completely misunderstand the meaning of guilt and use it to beat themselves up and to judge themselves negatively. They feel bad for doing something they disapprove of, that wasn’t fair, and label themselves accordingly. They feel the pain of the people they have hurt or let down and berate themselves even more. By the time they have done this, they do not feel worthy of forgiveness. The feeling of guilt has become a burden which can be carried for many years. In order to make the feeling go away, it is common to try and convince yourself that it was someone else’s fault and point the finger of blame at someone else. If anyone points out your error, you shoot the messenger as it is too painful to hear. It doesn’t work though. You are trying to save your reputation in someone else’s eyes, but you haven’t convinced yourself. The feeling of guilt is still there. Worse than that, if you are not acknowledging any responsibility for the problem, you believe there is nothing wrong with whatever you did, there is nothing to learn or do differently another time for a better outcome. There is a problem that needs fixing, but you have denied yourself the opportunity to fix it.
HOW IS GUILT A GIFT?
Guilt is a gift when you understand the true meaning of the message. All feelings are good and are there to help you. You are angry at yourself because you have made a mistake and done something you regret. You need to fix it.
The fact that you feel regret already proves that you are not a bad person. Bad people do bad things by choice, they enjoy it and feel no remorse. Only good people can feel genuine guilt. If you were not a good person, worthy of forgiveness, you wouldn’t feel guilty.
The fact that you feel guilty proves that you accept responsibility for the error and this is a gift. If you are responsible then you can do something about it. If you believe it is not your responsibility, you will be dependent on others to fix it. You have given your power away.
What’s done is done and you can’t do it over. However you can attempt to put it right or compensate for the hurt in some way. A heartfelt apology goes a long way, as does an alternative action as an appropriate replacement for what is lost. This may even earn you forgiveness from others, but it is still essential to forgive yourself to let go of the pain and limitations of guilt.
Having made amends as best you can, it is now time to pay attention to the guilt feeling which wants you to learn something so that you don’t make that mistake again. With the benefit of hindsight, how would you do things differently on a future occasion? What do you know now that you didn’t know then? Remind yourself that we all do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time. You now know more because you have feedback about the consequences of your actions. Decide on an alternative approach in future. Imagine having used that approach in the original incident and check it feels good. Resolve to do that in future.
Finally, have a conversation with yourself. Why are you holding on to the guilt? How does that serve you? Are you refusing to forgive yourself because you misunderstood the meaning of guilt? Are you keeping alive the bad feeling of the wrongdoing as a way of reminding yourself not to doing it again? Talk yourself out of either of those blocks as they are no longer needed once you have made amends and learnt the lessons that ensure you will never repeat the mistake again.
To finally and completely let go of the guilt and move on, you are now ready to forgive yourself. You have suffered enough and you deserve to make friends with yourself again.. Forgive and let go of the anger at self and enjoy new healing levels of self esteem and self love.
“Let the feeling of guilt give you the GIFT of learning and forgiving yourself so that you never make the same mistake again, instead of the BURDEN of feeling bad, unforgiveness and repeating the same mistake again and again.” Christine 💜
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