How to make guilt work for you

Guilt, as most of us usually experience it, is not a good place to be. It tortures us, leaves us thinking weMasaccio4_2 might be worthless, traps us in self-doubt, and paralyses our ability to act.

Over on Psyblog there is a recent good discussion of Guilt, putting up the idea that it pushes us to to make amends to other people. In that sense it acts as a Herd mechanism. So far, so good, but that doesn’t tell us how to get rid of guilt.

It seems to me that there is still a lot of wrong thinking about guilt and that confusion gets in the way of our being able to do something about it.

The most important error people make is to label Guilt as an emotion. It is in fact a distortion of emotion. The ego distorts emotion by getting obsessive about it instead of taking action and letting it go. When it produces guilt it mixes up emotion with unhelpful ideas like sin, self-blame and self-punishment.

The three major emotions that get distorted in guilt are fear, remorse and disgust. You could be experiencing, one, two, or all three of them at the same time.

Fear is there when there is a possibility that you may be found out. That your career, your relationships, your reputation or your friendships may be in jeopardy. Bodymind may be signalling you either to protect yourself or come clean.

Remorse is really a variation on the emotion of sadness (all the emotions work like this – consider them as having different keys, with sadness modulating into pity, love, empathy, compassion, grief, and remorse). Remorse is your body’s way of telling you that it is time to make amends for your bad behavior. To be more attentive, loving, forgiving, generous or honest with the other party.

Disgust comes up when the action you took is repulsive in some way – potentially harmful to you or to other people. Your body needs you to make a decision and sever yourself from that situation for good.

Headmind distorts these emotions through worry, self-blame and by mixing up our identity with our behaviour. This also gets complicated by religion gone wrong – the myth of sin, divine judgment, and hellfire. This feeds the illusion of free-will: that we have complete control over our actions and can choose what to do. The reality is that we will always do what seems most desirable at the time given our current state of knowledge.

Here is a little process you can do to reverse out of guilt:

1. Identify the moment in time just before you did what you did. Relive that moment again in your visual and auditory imagination. Notice that you are just about to engage in the behavior you associate with guilt.

2. Now go into your body at that moment in time before you ‘decided’ to go ahead with the behavior.

3. Staying in your body in that moment notice that – given the situation, the knowledge you had at that time, and the state you were in, you could not in fact have done anything else. (If you had known any different, remember, you would not have done it).

4. Tell yourself: ‘I make mistakes sometimes but I am not a bad person’

5. Fully realising your limitations in that moment, notice that you didn’t actually have any guilt at that time.

6. Finally, decide what you want to do about your emotions – fear, remorse, or disgust. And take appropriate action.

 

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