We increasingly view guilt as something you shouldn’t feel, indeed spiritual advisers like to tell you that you aren’t responsible for others, or that you don’t need to feel guilty for something for the rest of your life. This doesn’t help when you may have a reason to feel guilty about something and worse it can disable your ability to deal with or change something that could make you a happier and healthier person.
Guilt is a moral indicator. It is experienced in the short term when you are in a position where hurting others is unavoidable or an unplanned result of something you said or did. In the long term guilt holds a space when your actions or words don’t reflect your own values. The key to addressing guilt feelings is to identify the actual cause, rather than an intellectual ideal. No one, ever, feels guilty on behalf of someone else, to that end, if guilt feelings are a problem for you, it is time to look at where you are either not considering important others in your words and actions, or where you are not living your truth.
Let’s talk about living your truth. I see this as one of the most misunderstood guidelines in personal development. What does it mean exactly? Every one of you were taught basic values. These may not be exactly the same, and the standard of those values may vary a bit, but even a thief teaches their children not to steal. They may include them in the rewards of theft, but at the same time discipline them for stealing from them for example. This brings a conflict of values that can cause issues later and in some a moral dilemma for a time. If we return to the professional thief as a model, there has to be a sense of entitlement or they couldn’t do it. That is going to be a rationalization. For example they might tell themselves that the person is insured, not a nice person because they have material wealth or that in some way they left themselves exposed so deserve it. There is only one reason to rationalize a behaviour, which is to appease guilty feelings.
Back to living your truth. Guilt occurs for reasons you may not understand completely. You may be unfair in a situation, angry and abusive or you may be holding someone to a standard you yourself, don’t uphold. In any area where you are in conflict with your personal truth, you will feel guilty. The question becomes one of integrity. Basic standards are easy to identify. Dropping standards to accommodate ones desires will inevitably lead to guilt.
Living your truth is not about anything more than these values. Regardless of personality, character is determined by learning to live by the very standards that you also set for others. Understanding that you set these standards because they are ones you believe you should live by, is a revelation if you aren’t quite doing that. Living your truth isn’t about perfection, it is about at every moment knowing that you have done your best to live up to your own standards. Some are easier than others, no one has an affair by accident or because they are in love, those are rationalizations, which suggest guilt, which suggests not living by a standard you set for others and quite likely, for yourself.
Recently I had a client who was struggling with her mother. She was always annoyed or angry after their conversations and felt that her mum was interrogating her, didn’t believe her and was distrustful. She told me she felt guilty all the time with her mum, and that made her angry. She blamed her mum for feeling this way. I suggested that her guilt was about being angry with her mum, not wanting to talk to her or tell her about things she was doing and perhaps for behaving like her at times. This took her by surprise as she had spent years feeling as if her mum made her feel guilty when in reality, she felt guilty because of the way she was treating her mum. Her mum may be controlling or annoying, but didn’t deserve the type of treatment she was getting. This isn’t my determination, this is why the client felt guilty in the first place. Living a truth in this situation meant that the client would not like to have been treated the way she was treating her mum.
Identify what drives your guilt, does it require an apology, a change in behaviour or an honest assessment of your own character? If your words or actions include things that you would not like others to say and do to you, guilt will walk through life with you. Living your truth is far easier than living your guilt.