Guilt is an interesting emotion, isn’t it? It’s the same as regret, basically, except guilt involves an extra dose of “I suck” that plain old regret doesn’t always have.
Guilt is choosing to feel badly about something that’s done and over. Arguing with reality because you chose to believe it should have of went down another way.
But Byron Katie says when you argue with reality, you lose. So is there ever an upside to guilt?
I posed this question to a group of really smart people once and one of them argued that guilt protects us from doing the same thing again in the future.
But does it? I’ve learned many lessons in life and I know you have too. I’ve made huge “mistakes” and decided to never do that again, and it didn’t have to involve guilt.
There was no need to beat myself up over the mistake or choose to stay in the past. You can learn a lesson and change your ways without guilt. Without even feeling badly, if you want to.
I once heard that “Guilt is the love of staying stuck”. I believe that because what is guilt if not being stuck in the past?
Your guilt is not noble. It doesn’t let you off the hook or mean that you have a conscious. It doesn’t ease the pain of the person you may have wronged. And it’s not at all a prerequisite for learning a lesson.
It’s just another way of being mindless. One more way we rob ourselves of the present moment.
You can always choose to learn your lessons with humility instead of with guilt.
Being unhappy in order to get happy
Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.
Very good post!
I just looked up guilt vs regret and found an interesting distinction on a website: “Guilt results from doing something that we knew was wrong at the time. Regret comes from later learning that we could have done something better. When we understand the difference between guilt and regret, we can move beyond blaming ourselves for what we didn’t know or weren’t able to do at the time.”
Interesting–right? Looking at that I can actually buy into those definitions. When I think of the “you suck” aspect of guilt you mentioned above, I think we’ve moved past guilt and into “shame” territory.
I don’t think there’s anyway to avoid some of that “Ooooh I wish I hadn’t done that–or had done that” twinge of guilt as a reminder to be careful of our actions. (Obviously, I’m not talking years of hauling around buckets of guilt, here. )
But shame is another animal. Shame is “you did something wrong and therefore you’re a bad person and undeserving of love.” That one is the real killer.
Of course I’m indulging in a tomato, tomato (tomayto, tomahto) thing. The fact is, I agree 100% that wasting today’s joy on yesterday’s guilt/regret/shame carries an extremely heavy cost and yet too many people do it. Of course, like everyone else, I have my moments of looking back and feeling bad for things done and left undone. But I try not to stay there long…
Hi Amy! This post really touched a nerve with me. I carry a lot of guilt about a certain situation from my past. There’s no possible way of fixing it – as the other party is now deceased. But the guilt remains.
On a good day, I realize I’m being ridiculous. It’s been almost 10 years now. I know I need to let it go. But on bad days, I totally beat myself up over it. Your line that it’s “one more way we rob ourselves of the present moment” really speaks to me. Really great insight.
I know it’s our job to live in the present. After all, that’s where life is. Thanks for a great reminder. I think you may have given me the push I need to finally get unstuck and let go of this guilt. Thank you!
Glad it helped, Piper.
One more thing, and I know this may or may not resonate based on your beliefs, but I like to remind myself that when someone is deceased, they definitely aren’t in pain over anything you may have done to them. They are in pure positive energy seeing you as pure positive energy, so there is no pain they are experiencing now for you to feel badly about.
Thanks for your comment! xo
I love this! I found this same theme in the 4 agreements. Paraphrasing: “Guilt is punishing yourself over and over for the same action. Is that justice?” … and … “Humans are the only species that suffers from guilt. Other animal species learn from the consequences and move on.” He also references how we punish spouses and others by reminding them of their errors. “Is that justice?” I have been trying to focus on the lesson learned and praise myself for seeing the lesson, rather than clouding the issue w/ the murk of guilt. Tough to do but worth it.
Very worth it. Life would be so much easier if we didn’t feel the need to invoke justice, wouldn’t it? 🙂
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