A number of years back I had a conversation with one of my dearest friends. She is loving, wise, compassionate and insightful. We were talking about guilt, my feeling crippled by it and her difficulty in grasping it as a concept. It’s possible that she is the only person I know who grew up without some inherent understanding of guilt and the role it plays in society.
At the time we were having this conversation I was exhausted by my guilt, I had long thought that there *had* to be a way past the guilt, a way to not feel the crushing weight of it at every moment. My friend and I examined my experiences guilt that I was wrestling with.
The closest we came to me conveying ‘guilt’ and her understanding it was in the context of responsibility and consequences for one’s actions. It was through an examination of these two things that my friend articulated the questions that went through her head in scenarios where I was guilt ridden and how differently she perceived them.
The questions are simple and with the framing of responsibility and consequences for actions they became a powerful tool that allowed me to unravel my guilt compex. I no longer suffer the weight of crushing guilt as a constant companion. I am free of it. It’s not that I don’t occasionally feel guilty, but I now have the means to deal with it and not let it take over my experience of the day, week or even just that moment.
I don’t suggest that this tool will work for everyone, we are all different and our own experiences are sovereign to us. However, I’m sharing this with the thought that perhaps other people may indeed find this approach useful and allow them some freedom from guilt.
It comes down to my willingness to take responsibility for the consquences of my actions.
When I start to feel guilty there are a series of questions that I ask myself, devised within this conversation several years ago with my best friend.
Is this my responsibility?
If yes, are there actions I can take that would be appropriate and useful? If there are actions that will help resolve the situation and they are appropriate in the context I go ahead and take them.
If there are no actions that I can reasonably take I can ask myself; what I can learn from the situation? What I would do differently or the same in a similar situation?
If it not my responsibility I can ask myself if there are actions that would be appropriate or useful to take regardless. If there are appropriate actions, I undertake them.
If it isn’t appropriate I still go back to the question of what I’ve learned from the situation.
Once I’ve examined whether I have any responsibility, if there are actions that can be reasonably taken that are appropopriate and within my capacity to give I can feel at peace with that situation that provokes the feelings of guilt in me.
Once you’ve reached the end of that question trail, you’re left with a sense of having thought it through and either having done what you can to resolve it or taken the lesson from it for next time. All that remains then is to let it go.
If there is no futher action that can be taken… I can take a deep breath and let go of the guilt. At that point, it has nothing further to cling to. This is when it feels like some sort of magical force field kicks in and I’m free from the guilt onslaught in my heart and head.
These questions are not an instant fix. It took some determination and consistent practise on my part to have ongoing effect. I started off actually needing to talk myself through the questions, but now I can just take a moment to think about the situation and trust in my experience to make the right decisions about responsibility and resulting actions.
Guilt, such a strong and destructive emotional force. If you’re struggling with it and reading, you have my heartfelt wishes that you experience ease and freedom around engaging with it, or not as is needful for you.
I’m curious to know what other tools and mechanisms people use to tackle guilt, so please feel free to share in the comments. I’m also curious if other people have a similar approach and whether they’ve found it has worked or not worked for them?