The word itself is harsh. Ugly. Add a “y” to it, and it throws stones, points fingers, casts looks.
Guilt is one of those gremlins that shows up and causes us to question, to beat ourselves up, to become inert.
Certainly, we are human and make mistakes. There are times when guilt is a reasonable subsequent emotion to an unfair thought, unkind word, unnecessarily hurtful action. In those moments, the effect may be to rectify, seek forgiveness, redirect action towards something positive.
But, guilt is a sneaky thing. It tends to come up for all sorts of reasons and sometimes, the effect wavers from positivity and leads to a reaction that is negative based.
I suffer from guilt. Often. I’ve put it under a microscope through self-reflection, conversation, therapy, coaching. It comes up for me over and over.
There may be a number of possible reasons for the presence of guilt. Maybe it was handed down by familial generations; it runs in the family or shows up in culture. Sometimes it functions in religion. Or very simply, when it’s practiced, it works. Let’s look at that last one.
One reason guilt shows up often in life is because it has power.
Whether it is used by someone to make another act in his/her favor, or you take it and internalize it to make a decision about yourself, it displays a sense of control.
How to handle guilt? Well, I’m not an expert by any means. But, here’s my take on it:
- Release. Guilt can layer up or create tension/stress. Let the emotion out before reacting. Breathe. Curse. Have a cry fest. Dance. Talk it out. It always feels better.
- Get clarity. Sometimes guilt can obscure things. Try to get clear what you are truly feeling over the issue at hand. Does that one incident make you a bad person, really?
- Lose the crutch. What would you do if you did not feel guilty? How would that impact the way you view yourself or the situation?
- Recognize that sometimes, it’s not about you. Not taking things personally, or taking on others’ problems is a skill to practice.
- Forgive yourself. If we can’t do this or show ourselves kindness, then how can we do it towards others?
Living so far away from home has brought on several layers of guilt for me.
Watching births, weddings, and other happy events from Facebook albums? Guilty. Losing contact with some friends? Guilty. Missing my dear aunt’s funeral? Guilty.
For me, this is an ongoing process of recognizing the emotion and deciding what to do with it. But what I know, is that with every bit of practice, I am learning to tame those nasty gremlins.
What are your thoughts/feelings around guilt? Does it mobilize you in a positive way or paralyze you?
Christine Martin has been an international educator for over ten years. She’s made her home in Colombia, Tunisia & Korea. Her passion is interior design/interior architecture and has recently completed certification in these areas. She enjoys travel, photography, food, yoga. She and her husband are making a huge life shift in October 2012, leaving their careers and moving to Laos. You can find Christine on Twitter, her personal blog or interior design site.
Editor: Cassandra Smith