A few days ago, I spoke to some women who are reclaiming their lives by taking courageous steps to overcome a past that includes either addiction, treatment programs, incarceration, domestic abuse, or a variety of these challenges. I feel blessed to be invited to speak to them about one of my favorite topics, “Engaging in Self-Compassion.” In my past blogs and videos, I’ve been told it’s been one of your favorite topics too.
Afterward, a woman came up and asked if I would return another time and discuss “guilt.” I said I would be happy to. She said, “I have so much guilt for everything I’ve done in my past.” I exhaled. I get it. I saw her in me…I am harder on myself for my past choices than anyone has ever been on me. So, back to my “What if’s…” Remember this one? What if we forgave ourselves and let go of our past regrets?
Guilt…such a powerful feeling, and one that has great purpose. It reminds you that, at some point in your earlier life, you made a decision that created pain for yourself and most likely others—a decision with negative consequences. You now regret that decision. You “feel” guilty. Guilt can be a great motivator to teach the consequences of our choices. I like to think it helps make better future choices that will lead us away from worse consequences. Guilt gets confused with its cousin, Shame, which carries a deeper emotion of “I am something wrong” as opposed to Guilt, “I did something wrong.”
Are there any remedies for guilt? I like to think so, but they require an honest look at your “self.” The first is self-forgiveness. As I stated in my blog on forgiveness a few years ago, “Although forgiveness (acceptance) might help mend relationships, it’s not for the other person…it’s entirely a process to help release the negative burden of personal imprisonment.” Guilt is that personal imprisonment. Forgiving yourself for decisions that you made in your past is not easy. Beating yourself up might be something that you’re really good at…something that’s very familiar. There’s a part of you that might feel like you don’t deserve to have a good life, you don’t deserve to be let off the hook, you deserve to keep being punished.
But to what end? Who makes up the rules on the amount of self-punishment required to overcome our past poor choices? I, for one, believe that we all have done things that we wish we could have a mulligan or a do-over. But here’s the deal: What did you learn from making that choice that has resulted in you now feeling guilty? Can you take that lesson and apply it toward creating a better life for yourself? Can you help others understand your version of those choices and it’s resulting consequences? Can you forgive yourself and accept (not approve) that in that time and under those circumstances, that was the choice that you made?
Lastly, I’ll beat a familiar drum. Along with self-forgiveness, self-compassion goes a long was as one of the remedies for guilt. Picture this: A little girl makes the same decision that you currently feel guilty about. She comes to you for forgiveness. What would you say? Would you beat her up (emotionally, I’m hopeful you’re not violent 🙂)? Would you yell and scream at her? Would you feel betrayed and make it more about you than her?
What would happen if you looked at her with compassion and empathy? What if you told her that you wish she had made a different choice, and that it’s okay and that you still love her? What if you gave her a break, and didn’t have an expectation that she would never make choices that create painful consequences?
And what if, when you looked into her eyes that were looking to you for forgiveness, you saw that it was really yourself seeking peace, forgiveness, understanding, and acceptance? And what if you forgave yourself in that moment? What if you let go of your past regrets and had a deep understanding that there is a divine purpose for every inch of your life? I know it seems like a fantasy, but it’s possible to journey to this moment and forgive your past self. Your present and future self will thank you for it. Eckhart Tolle agrees 🙂.
Much peace, my friend. ✌😊
p.s. Check out my video on this topic: Letting go of Guilt
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