“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment.
If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can
and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time.
On no account brood over your wrongdoing.
Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”
– Aldous Huxley (Brave New World)
I’m going to talk about something today that most of you won’t want to admit happens to you because it’s an uncomfortable truth.
And I see it and hear it all the time.
Here’s the setting.
Something challenging or bad or in conflict has occurred between two people.
One of them says to the other, “I just feel guilty about [you fill in your favorite guilt trip]” or “I feel guilty that [fill in what happened or what was said] happened” or “I feel guilty even asking you about [fill in whatever you’d like here].”
Then, there’s either an awkward silence (as if the person receiving the guilt-ridden announcement is supposed to finish the sentence for the other person) or the guilt-trip is then offered as an excuse why something was or wasn’t done or is about to be done.
Let me point out that this article is not about condemning someone’s feelings of guilt.
This article is not about judging what someone might or might not feel terrible about.
This article isn’t even about a person’s current feelings at all.
This is an article about responsibility and ownership of one’s actions and doing what has to be done to change for the better.
I want you to consider the next time you talk about “feeling guilty” to someone whether you’re using it to make an excuse or whether such a feeling is motivating you to actually change something for the better.
We, as a whole, have sometimes gotten so used to talking about our guilt as the actual outcome or consequence (or even as a cultural or societal or religious theme) that we’ve forgotten (or chosen to overlook because it’s easier and less painful) that real guilt is the real realization we’ve really done something wrong AND NEED TO CHANGE SOMETHING.
It’s not the outcome.
It’s an emotion.
If you judge something you’ve done or said or allowed to be wrong, then you understand that the “thing you did or said or allowed” needs to be changed the next time around. Pay close attention to that last sentence because, if you’ve done or said or allowed something, then you own it.
You have responsibility.
When you have responsibility over something, then you also have the power to control it (in various degrees).
However . . .
I don’t see or hear many people who claim to feel guilty all the time actually accepting responsibility in a productive way and thus they aren’t changing anything at all. By simply saying “I feel guilty” without doing anything to modify the situation or keeping history from repeating itself, they aren’t taking ultimate responsibility for their words and actions.
Instead, they “feel guilty” and that outward acknowledgment of their feelings is the supposed to be the absolution in and of itself.
Let’s back up a moment and continue our discussion with the fact that real guilt serves an actual purpose at the appropriate time. Among other things, guilt helps to keep you from doing things that are harmful to yourself and others. Guilt can provide us with necessary boundaries.
So, I ask: What happens when we use the claim of feeling guilty, instead, as a way to rationalize or dismiss behavior or feelings or thoughts that continue rather than as an impetus for change?
The answer is: Nothing happens.
And that’s the whole point I’m asking you to take to heart. I want you to make better things happen.
If you’re feeling guilt, it’s likely arising from one of the following basic scenarios:
You did something.
You didn’t do something.
You believe you did something (even if you didn’t).
You believe you didn’t do something when you should have (even if you did).
Once you figure out the scenario your guilt fits into (yes, it might be more than one), the next thing to do is ask yourself:
How is my guilt serving me?
In other words, what is your guilt telling you?
Then, I want you to use your personal power to make things happen differently in the future. This starts with being insanely logical about any given situation. In other words, you might want to use the great question posed by author Byron Katie:
IS IT TRUE?
Anytime you’re feeling guilty (and that guilt is not keeping you from hurting yourself or others) ask: Is what I’m feeling guilty about true? (Note: You’re not asking whether the guilt is true. You’re asking whether the underlying factual premise is true.)
If you discover that you’ve made up some story (or there’s no story at all) to support your guilt, you can then move on from there.
If you discover that something is true that supports your guilty emotion, then take the time to deconstruct what you’ve done or said that brought you to the point of feeling guilty. Once you make that realization, you can then create an action plan to prevent the same things from happening or being said in the first place.
You will be transforming disempowering habits and replacing them with actions that help you create the outcomes you desire.
Now, that’s Magic.
Remember, you can also continue this conversation by subscribing to my blog at http://thinkingmagically.com or you joining me on any of the major social media sites to take this discussion to an even deeper level.