Every single one of us has experiences we wish we could relive and “get right” on the second go-round. Lacking the second chance, we may find ourselves wishing for a self-forgiveness wand, but it’s important we don’t rush to that too quickly. If we do we may miss valuable lessons that might come our way from our guilty feelings.
First of all it’s critical to distinguish Real Guilt from Vague Guilt.
Real Guilt is connected with unethical behaviour and we feel it when we have stepped out of line with our truth and have upset the balance between ourselves and others.
Vague Guilt is much more complicated, hangs around a LONG time and it is created either in our own memory or by the warnings of others. Vague Guilt is the response of the scared child inside of us and it carries the heavy burden of blame. You will know that is the type of guilt you are carrying if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions:
Do I feel afraid of taking a strong action?
Am I afraid of being punished, or of being known in a new way as a result of my strong action?
Am I refusing to take responsibility?
Am I feeling angry, but also feel it’s wrong to feel this way or to express my anger?
Am I doubting myself and denying a truth in an attempt to please others?
The solution then is to acknowledge the Vague Guilt as a signal that you are avoiding something, and then, with kindness towards that scared child inside of you address the excitement that lies under the guilt. Then, in the words of David Richo, in “How to Be an Adult”, “the guilt becomes a belief, not a verdict.”
The beauty of Real Guilt is that when it is dealt with in a clean way we are able to forgive ourselves and live free of the self-repudiating blame that clings to Vague Guilt. Here are the steps, that again come from David Richo’s book:
- Admission – Admit directly to the person involved that you hurt them or acted irresponsibly or neglectfully. Ask to hear about the pain they feel and take it in. This allows you to take full responsibility and is the only way to create genuine relationships.
- Amendment – Cease the behaviour that created the harm and make it up to the person. (If you broke their window, replace it. If you didn’t keep your word, take an action that follows through as you initially promised.) If for whatever reason, the original person isn’t available or open, provide the same follow-up with another person or a charity.
- Affirmations – 1. Repeat lines to yourself such as “I make new and wiser choices”, “I lighten up on myself and others”. 2. Congratulate yourself for the adult-choice and follow-through that will ultimately free you and those around you.
With compassion and accountability we are able to forgive ourselves and be the authentic people we were always meant to be! In the words of Mary Jo Leddy, “By sensing what we have done wrong we can begin to reclaim our potential to do good.” There is nothing more powerful! Trust me on this one.