“Every guilty person is his own hangman.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Guilt is a heavy feeling. It’s like lugging around a large, unwieldy trunk full of stuff you don’t need or want, but can’t seem to put down.
The worst thing about guilt is that even though the circumstance has passed, you keep carrying it around with you. And that trunk just seems to get heavier. Discover how to put the trunk down and forgive yourself.
All of your emotions carry a message with them; telling you to do something that needs to be done. So what does guilt tell you?
It’s telling you to address your past wrongs – maybe to “fix” a situation that you left broken, return something you took, or simply apologize. Guilt lets you know that there is redress to whatever you have done.
Even if you can’t address it directly with the people or person you wronged, you can take what you learned and create something that will help yourself or other people. In effect, turning a negative into a positive.
Guilt = A Lesson in Forgiveness
Dealing with guilt is really about forgiving yourself. Eternal punishment is not necessary. 😉 Address what happened, take the necessary action and move on. There is no need to carry guilt with you forever.
Guilt puts you in a reactive state. When you feel guilty about something, often you try to “make up” for it in other situations in your life. But this is neither addressing what you did nor learning from it, it’s just a reaction to what happened. And when you are reacting, all of your actions are based on another person, and not on your own motivations. You get stuck in the re-action.
I was in a relationship once where I was the one who ended it. I felt guilty about that because it was fairly serious and we cared a lot for each other. My life circumstances changed, however, and I made the decision that it was best to end it. When I entered into a new relationship some time after that, my guilt came with me. A lot of how I acted in the new relationship was actually based on the previous one.
This did me no good and certainly did the relationship no good. I was still in the past, but acting in the present. Instead of addressing the previous situation, I was trying to “make-up” for it. But you can’t really “make-up” for something you did with one person, with another. I needed to address the actual situation, if not with my previous boyfriend, then at least with myself.
Moving Past Guilt
- “Fix” it with the person you wronged – What action can you take to redress what you did? Figure this out and then do it. However, this action may not always be accessible or appropriate. Some situations are too far in the past or the person is simply not available.
- Assess what you learned – How can you take what you learned and create something positive with that? If you can’t address the situation with the person themselves, you can still learn something from it. Find the good in what happened. Create with that.
- Forgive yourself – Lastly, after you’ve taken one or both of the above actions, forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself does not make what you did right, nor does it excuse you, it simply allows you to move on. Once you’ve taken action towards your guilt, forgiveness is easier. We all do things that hurt other people sometimes, but this does not make you a “bad” person beyond forgiveness. Put that trunk down and don’t look behind you. 😉
How do you deal with guilt in your life? Have you found that you’ve been able to move on? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.