The purpose of guilt
Guilt… a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
I never spent a lot of time in guilt until I became a mother. Now I know guilt well… it can eat away at you and bury into your soul. It can live inside you for years to resurface at unsuspecting times to remind you of your values and push you into the discomfort that you have a choice to make… be motivated to repent your sins, your mistakes and do better or suffer and hold it against your self worth and ability to appreciate your value in this world.
When you’re lying awake at night and you can’t fall asleep because you’re replaying that thing you did, the words that you said and you are marinating in the guilt of your actions… what is the purpose of that?
One benefit of guilt is to know that you have values. You can see the difference between right and wrong and guilt can give you a marker of the limits that you are willing to accept… If you cross the line of your own moral code or make a choice that doesn’t support your ethics. It is the reminder we sometimes need to snap back into living in alignment with our truth.
Something that comes up is the guilt of failing our children, that somehow we have done something, or not done enough, to support the child to grow in alignment with our expectations or values. Along this line of thought, can we release the notion that the choices our children make are correlated to our own worth? Especially as they grow independent from us and into their own person with their own set of values. To allow them the freedom to be the bearer of their own will and for us to surrender the responsibility of their choices.
Sometimes we wear our guilt as a mask to showcase our good intentions, we are guilty and therefore we are still a good person, without taking on board the responsibility to change our ways. When we do not accept ourselves or our present situation. This is the destructive path that spirals into “I am a bad person, mother, friend… I am unworthy…” promotes the unwillingness to change because what is the point, the belief has been established that you are not worth changing...
Guilt left to fester can manifest as shame, which, as according to Brene Brown is the belief that we are unworthy of love and belonging and ultimately unworthy of connection because of something we have done or failed to do or be. Shame is not a tool for change but a downward spiral into self destruction. It is important that we address the guilt to move towards changed behaviour before we allow it to settle into the soul as a belief of our flaws.
You can choose to punish yourself with your guilt in a way to make up for the wrong doings that you did or you can choose to let your guilt motivate your change… releasing the guilt from your shadows. Harbouring guilt doesn’t repair relationships or un do what may have unravelled
Sit with it… instead of pushing it down, burying it as you would shame, take the time to really have a look into this feeling of guilt. What is your level of responsibility here? Is this something you had any control over or was it outside of yourself? If you acted carelessly and caused harm then maybe there is something you can do to make amends, maybe it was something out of your hands and you are just simply beating yourself up about it?
Sit with it some more… this is getting comfortable in the discomfort. I ask you what was your motivation behind doing the thing that you feel so guilty about? Did you have to break a rule or a code of honour for the cause of the common good? Were your intentions positive but received in a way that you had not expected? Maybe this can be an opportunity to sharpen your communication skills and be more mindful of the situation others are in to receive what we are dishing out?
Review your choices… You can either change or accept that which is. If you can change yourself or your situation then step up to the action. If you cannot change, ask yourself why not. If there is validity that the situation cannot be changed then surrender to it. Accept it before it swallows you up into the pits of shame. Be confident that you have made a choice for the common good and you fully support your decision.
Allow it to motivate you to do better… to review where you let your morals slip, your limits be crossed and motivate you to hold the line to your own code of honour and show up for yourself and the greater good of the cause. Review your actions and how you can implement ways to handle the situation that falls into alignment with your values.
The power of an apology… if you know you have done the wrong thing, you crossed a line there is so much power in admitting fault at being an imperfect being. Showing our children no matter how small they are, that there is no shame in apologising, everyone makes mistakes - even adults and when we make mistakes we can try to make things better, acknowledge that we caused them to hurt and possibly make the other person feel better.
Forgive yourself… Meet yourself with compassion for where you are at. Knowing that you are only human and the human experience is a process of becoming more self aware and more conscious of our actions. A constant calibration of the way that we process and manage our reactions and responses. As long as you are doing your best you are on the right path.
'To do our best' means that at all times in our everyday life we should probe our minds so that we don't feel guilty about our mistakes, even though others don't know about them. If we do that, we are truly doing our best.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
So to remind you, your guilt it is common, especially amongst the mothers that I know because you care and you have high standards and strong values. So let those taunting guilt threads weave a tale of your virtues, remind you of your strengths and the lessons you have learnt because if you let your guilt consume you, you will be feeding the fears and the worry that can fester into shame and all that does is diminish your power, your light and that would be heartbreaking.