“You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, then move on!” — Wayne Dyer
Are you still holding on to guilt at the moment? Perhaps it is the guilt of a former relationship turned sour or something you failed to act on. See if you can connect with the feelings of guilt and where they appear in your body. For example, do you notice an empty feeling in your chest or a gnawing, stabbing sensation in the pit of your stomach? Try to locate the epicenter of the emotion in your body.
Guilt is an emotion many people carry and learn to cope with. There are many reasons we experience guilt, which can show up in a myriad of ways. Psychologists believe shame and guilt are intertwined, meaning where there is guilt, shame is attached to it. Therefore, when we heal our guilt, we address the shame associated with it. Is this something you can identify with? For instance, I still carry the guilt of turning my back on a career in fashion design, after gaining a degree and being successful. Although it was the right decision, I often wonder how far I could have gone in my career if I stuck it out. I don’t regret the decision to walk away from it, but I feel guilty for having gone to university and wasted years of study.
So, how do we transform the guilt that holds us hostage? First, it’s important we recognize we acted in the best way we could. The late American poet Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Therefore, to heal guilt and shame is to acknowledge we were doing the best we could, given our level of awareness. Now that we know better, we are likely to make informed decisions and grow because of our actions. In other words, we ought to develop self-compassion and self-forgiveness to heal our guilt, so we grow into the person we’re meant to be. Are you happy with this idea? Can you see that as you develop, you make better life decisions? So, in forgiving ourselves, we extend forgiveness to others who may have contributed to our guilt. Perhaps there was a pivotal lesson embedded in your experience to help you discover the healing power of forgiveness?
You won’t know until you take the first step and reframe the guilt. It requires letting go of the memories of what went wrong and choosing to focus on healing the mistakes of the past. This is the beauty of forgiveness, insofar as it brings meaning to our experience. We surrender what took place, knowing the power of forgiveness can transform our memories and create a new canvas upon which to move forward. Part of this process requires letting go of the grudges and bitterness towards ourselves and others. These draining emotions keep us shackled to our past and offer nothing in return. They are lead weights on a deep-sea diver, instead of oxygen, that help the diver ascend to the surface. I admit, letting go of grudges is difficult because it signifies letting the other person off the hook. But that is a limiting perspective because the other person may be oblivious to the suffering going on within you.
Move Closer To The Pain By Becoming Intimate With It
“Sit with the pain until it passes, and you will be calmer for the next one.” — Naval Ravikant
Expressed differently: guilt holds you hostage from growing into the person you’re meant to be. It is a negative script replayed often, based on a convoluted chain of memories. Would you agree there are two sides to every situation? If so, why would you hold on to one perspective based on negativity instead of considering an alternative view? Maybe if we are proven wrong, we will have built our assumptions about a lie and have to uphold our sense of guilt and blame. If the story of guilt and shame are repeated often, it becomes ingrained in the crevice of our psyche and we are convinced it is true. We see this playing out in the world now through the political landscape and world leaders lying to their people to justify terrible acts of violence.
Second, to transform guilt and become the person we’re meant to be requires understanding the messages guilt is trying to convey. An emotion is a messenger to help us learn important life lessons. If we ignore it, it will resurface later and with greater intensity. The emotion is energy in motion (e-emotion) whose task is to move through our nervous system and be experienced by our entire being. So, we can choose to become curious of the guilt by asking the following questions via meditation, journaling, or both:
1. Am I remorseful for my actions or inactions in the past?
2. Have I tried to make amends if another person was involved?
3. Why am I persecuting myself? How does it benefit me? What do I get from it?
4. Who would I be without the guilt or shame?
5. How can I heal and transform the guilt/shame?
I invite you to answer these questions in your journal or diary to get a sense of the true meaning behind your guilt. Moreover, below you will find a list of the main Learning Points from this article. When we move closer to the epicenter of our pain, we can see it clearly and it is there our vulnerability is transformed. We discover we have been clutching to our pain unnecessarily instead of listening to the emotion and allowing it to be expressed through us. We have the power to make peace with our painful memories, so we are no longer held hostage by them. Like a prisoner set free on their release day, they can reexperience the freedom to be the person they were meant to be.
1. Guilt is an invitation to heal denied aspects of ourselves.
2. Guilt and shame and inextricably linked.
3. Healing guilt and shame requires connecting with the emotions through our body.
4. We must develop self-compassion and self-forgiveness to heal our guilt.
5. We ought to lean into our guilt and pain to transform it.