I was asked some great questions about guilt on my Instagram, and it is such an important topic that I decided to write about it. The questions were: what do you do if you feel guilty even though you did your best? How do you overcome a false sense of guilt? What about if I am feeling guilty for things others said I did, yet I know I didn't, but I almost believe it? How do I release guilt so that I don't feel bad about being happy?
Understand That Guilt Is a Conditioned Response
First it is important to understand that guilt is not an authentic emotion, it is a conditioned response. You learned to feel guilty when someone in your past told you that you were "bad". Children do not "feel guilty" until an authority, teacher or parent tells a child that she is to blame for something bad. In reality the child has not done anything "bad", but needs loving guidance to learn. However, since most parents were told THEY did bad things their own guilt and shame carries over and they continue to spread the same distorted thinking to their own children, and the cycle goes on.
As an adult you feel guilty whenever you are judging yourself based on a judgment that you learned in your past.
Guilt is a Form of Manipulation
Whether you guilt others, or they guilt you, understand that it is a form of manipulation. When you are feeling guilt within yourself, you are either judging yourself or feeling the weight of someone else's judgment against you. Let's say your mom wants you to spend Christmas with her but you decide to go sailing in the Caribbean with your husband instead. Your mom may judge you as a "bad daughter" and impose guilt upon you if you do not come home to see her. You are not a bad daughter simply because you do not spend Christmas with your mother. You actually have done nothing wrong, at all. In fact you are honoring something within you that is seeking an enjoyable relaxing time with your spouse. Odds are however that your whole trip will be tainted by feelings of guilt - simply for choosing something that is good for you and enjoying it.
When a person judges you as wrong, or your choices as "bad", they are doing so because your behavior puts them in touch with feelings inside of themselves that they are blocking, denying and repressing. It is the ego that is offended and it is the ego that wants control. The ego uses guilt trips to accomplish this. Your TRUE SELF can never be offended because being offended is purely a defense mechanism. I know that's a hard one. Being offendded is a buzz word today because it creates the perfect story to hide behind when we aren't ready to own our own authentic emotions. Looking at our own pain and healing it is much more difficult than placing blame on everyone and their grandmother for "offending" us. We are impervious to being offended by anyone or anything when we love ourselves fully.
In the Christmas example, if you don't go home for Christmas, your mother judges you because her ego is blocking her own unhappiness, loneliness and lack of joy in her own life. So rather than mom looking at why she isn't creating happiness for herself, she puts the pressure on you as if it is your job to make her happy. It's not. Unless you are raising small children, it is not your jon to make anyone happy. You can only do that for yourself. Each of us is 100% entirely reponsible for our own happiness - which is an inner state. But the guilt trip allows your mom to continue repressing her own authentic emotions.
When you feel guilt and are judging yourself you also believe subcobsciously that you need to be punished. This punishment can come in many forms including;
- Not enjoying your holiday in the Caribbean because the guilt is killing you
- Getting sick physically so that you are not "too happy"
- Sabotaging a great relationship because you're not supposed to be happy if your mom's not
- Not reaching for your dreams because the guilt of having to move away from your parents would bury you
Guilt Is a Losing Game Because It Keeps You Stuck In An Inner Conflict Where You Lose No Matter What You Do
When you experience the conditioned response of judgment and guilt you are stuck out at sea between the shore of really enjoying your life, having abundance, health and peace - and the shore of doing what you think everyone else wants or expects you to do. You vacillate between doing what "mom" wants (or your boss, or your spouse, or your church group, or the PTA mothers, or even your own adult children who expect that you act in a certain way) and then feeling resentful and bitter, or doing what YOU feel is best for you, and living with guilt. It's a lose lose situation. You must unwind yourself from the conditioning of guilt. Here's how:
1. Firstly, if you actually have done something you really regret, apologize and stop doing it. Own your actions as soon as you can and make amends with the person you've hurt by asking them if there is something you can do to clear the hurt.
If you hurt someone's feelings it is likely you will feel that within, it will hurt you inside. That is not guilt. That hurt you feel when you hurt others is an actual authentic emotion. When you don't feel right about something you've done or how you've treated someone, clear it from your energy field as soon as possible by apologizing or making things right. It is only when your ego stops you from apologizing, and you hold on to the bad feelings that it eventually feeds into guilt.
Taking responsibility for yourself is very different from guilt. Guilt is poison to your heart, whereas taking responsibility for your actions mends the holes you create in your own energy field.
2. Become conscious of where you judge yourself. Once you see your own patterns of self-judgment, it will be easier to see where others are judging you so that you can completely disengage from being affected by the judgments of others.
3. Identify and accept your own needs and honor them. Don't make having needs of your own seem wrong. It's not. Knowing what your own needs are will help you choose what is best for you rather than what you have been conditioned to think you should do. It is likely that you will find that you have been conditioned to think badly of yourself for perfectly healthy and normal things.
4. Be sure to do this with others also. Be aware that making someone else wrong is the same thing as making yourself wrong. Give up your judgments about others and their choices.
Guilt is such a damaging conditioned response that can sidetrack and entire life. But ultimately, you can heal from guilt. It is a process of truly owning up to your own behaviors, experiencing and being honest about your own authentic emotions rather than projecting your shadow onto others, being empowered enough to identify and honor your own needs, and never accepting the judgments others make about you - while simultaneously ceasing to judge others.