Feeling Guilty

I think many of us are confused. I hear people talk about feeling guilty a lot and sometimes I have to poke at the accuracy of that emotion.

Guilt is tricky. It is an important emotion that serve as a great wake up call when we get a little out of whack in our thoughts, attitude, or behavior. But it is often confused with shame and used when people really have no personal responsibility in a situation at all, it’s just a bad situation.

Guilt is indicative of having done something wrong. It is an important emotion that can help us stay in alignment with our personal values and beliefs – I am unkind, I feel guilty or I don’t plan enough time, end up running late, so again, I feel guilty.  It is an appropriate emotion that we can use to do better when needed.

Guilt can be an important motivator to help us be more aware and conscious.  It can help us be more intentional and evoke deep change. I think it’s a great emotion that can encourage us to stay within our own ethical and behavioral navigational beams.  When used correctly, it can serve as your own personal wake up call to get yourself back in check.

However, I think the feeling of guilt may be a bit misused.  Some people mistake shame and guilt. Shame is heavy. It takes “I’ve done something wrong” to “I am wrong”.  Shame needs to be talked back to and corralled into right proportion. 
But even guilt itself is often out of proportion.  Many people feel overly guilty because they are owning and feeling responsible for things that aren’t theirs. There is a big difference between feeling sad or bad about something vs feeling guilty.  I encourage my clients to assess the accuracy of that emotion – have you done something to feel guilty about or is it simply a sad situation that you feel bad about?

I think some people struggle with guilt because it gives them an illusion of control, as if they could or should be doing something about the situation.  Simply allowing yourself to feel the pain of the situation can put people right in the face of one of the most difficult emotions – powerlessness. Guilt gives people the illusion that they could or should be doing something to fix or help, when in reality there’s nothing they can do.

Some parent or spiritual practices use guilt and trained children very early on with feelings of condemnation. Again, is it accurate??

Thoughts to ponder…  Guilt – appropriate or not?  Have I moved into shame?Am I really just feeling sad and over-owning my responsibility in it?Are these old thoughts and patterns? Am I resisting my own powerlessness and trying to fix a situation that isn’t mine?

Deep stuff, good insights!!