Exorcising guilt

Guilt is not an emotion

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

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. Specifically, an ego-distortion of a genuine emotion, which is remorse. The sadness we feel when we regret the harm we have done to another, and are eager to make amends. But guilt is different, for it is a form of self-torture based on a final judgment that we are worthless and deserving only of punishment.

The other two emotions that get distorted in guilt are fear and disgust. Fear (or rather, worry) that we will be found out and condemned by others. Self-disgust at the hurt to our pride occasioned by poor behaviour. But all three are related to the ego’s demand for self-perfection.

Guilt is a self-judgment

Junkmind distorts these emotions through worry, self-blame and by mixing up our identity with our behaviour. It is sourced by the ego, the punitive, internal judge that sits in your head, holding you to account to impossible standards. What is worse, telling you that you are a bad person who can never be forgiven. For all these reasons guilt is unhealthy, as it does not provide for the possibility of forgiveness, and for making amends.

All guilt is based on hindsight. For at the moment you committed your mistake you did not realise that it was a mistake. Or maybe you were distracted and did not really know what you were doing. Your younger self made the best decision it could make, based on the available knowledge and experience available to it.

Once you have acted on remorse and made what amends you can (assuming you have the opportunity to do that) it is time to let go.

Reversing 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. That you could not have done otherwise in the moment.

6. Finally, forgive yourself for your mistakes, and refocus on how you can do better.

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