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Letting go of Guilt

Based on my 5 step process for letting go of negative emotions, this blog covers which of my 8 core learnings and specific learning I use for letting go of guilt.

Guilt is my minds way of telling me that I’ve done something (including ‘doing nothing’) that I don’t think I should have. I’ve broken a rule.

  • I should have known….

  • I should have checked…

  • I shouldn’t have done…

If I haven’t broken the rule on purpose, the ‘should’ judgement comes later, based on my own judgement, someone’s reaction, or by someone telling me directly that I’ve done something wrong.

If I agree with that judgement, or the consequences of my action bother me, guilt can follow.

But I have to say, from doing my own Emotional spring clean over 20 years ago, my learning was so profound that I can't remember the last time I felt guilty about something for very long. Nowadays, I get the learning from the event immediately I feel a hint of the emotion so I can let it go.

So here's how I applied my core learning and the specific learning to let go of guilt.

My core learning that's useful for letting go of guilt

1. Guilt gets in the way of logical clear thought, so let it go. Choose clear thinking instead.

No amount of guilt will reverse what I did or didn’t do.

And ‘feeling guilty’ isn’t very useful feedback for helping me to prevent a recurrence.

Let the guilt go and learn from what happened instead.

2. Guilt doesn't prove anything. What do I need to accept, say or do instead?

I think sometimes demonstrating how guilty we feel can be used to prove that we’re ‘good really’ as it’s normally followed up with great reasons for breaking the rule.

“I know I shouldn’t have, but…”

Feeling guilty doesn’t prove anything about me.

What it demonstrates is that something else was more important to me in the moment, than keeping to the rule…as per learning 7….

7. What I thought or did may seem weird or wrong, but it was vaild and right for me at the time.

I've reworded this one to focus on me rather than someone else.

For guilt, this core learning leads me to look at three things

  • Was the rule I broke one of my rules?

  • What made breaking one of my rules the best choice for me at the time?

  • Do I need to change the rule?

If it wasn't one of my rules, it may have been

  • a rule that governs what I’m doing (written or unwritten) that I ‘should’ have known about, or

  • someone else’s personal rule or standard (e.g. 'you shouldn't treat me like you know who I am?!').

Either way, it can be very easy to break a rule I’m not aware of.

But I still need to learn from the event, so that I can decide if I need to (and can), take any mitigating action now. And then either

  • Decide what I will do differently next time

  • Change my rules

  • Accept that as humans, we’re prone to ‘human error’. We sometimes make mistakes without realising or meaning to, even when we KNOW what the rules are (and we have core learning 8 to forgive us for that).

  • Accept that, given the same set of circumstances I’d choose the same action again. In other words, even though I may seem weird or wrong to others, it was a valid choice for me and I don’t accept the rule as my own.

In any of those cases, there’s no value in continuing to feel guilty about what happened.

I need to learn and move on.

Specific learning for guilt

If I’m thinking about breaking one of my rules, STOP!

We all know when we’re about to break a rule.

If I’ve accepted something as one of my rules, then I need to stick to it.

It’s the simplest way to avoid feeling the torture of guilt.

If something else seems more important than following that rule, then I need to find a way of achieving that within the rules, if I want to avoid feeling guilty.

Accept any consequences

Like it or not, even if I didn’t know about them (or the rule) in advance, there may be some consequences attached to what I did or said which I have to accept and can only deal with when they surface.

If I knowingly break a rule, then even if the expected or known consequences don’t occur immediately, I can’t be surprised if they show up later.

I have to accept the consequences of my actions whenever they appear and figure out if there is something I can, need to, and will do, to mitigate any of them.

Sadly, sometimes there isn’t anything I can do to make things better now.

As for Anger/Hurt I may not have the opportunity to put things right with someone who I don’t have the opportunity to talk to, and I’ll imagine having the conversation I wish I could have with them in my head.

I'll go through all the different ways the conversation might go until we have come to a resolution. I have listened to their points of view, said what I wanted to say and been heard.

I’ve had the opportunity to apologise for any hurt I caused, explained that it wasn’t my intention to cause harm and I can ask for their forgiveness.

And I carry on the conversation until we can part amicably in my head, even if we still don’t agree. The conflict is my head.

I’ve done as much as I can do and can let go of the guilt.

I hope what I learnt helps you too.

But if you

  • have some stored up guilt about things that have happened in the past that you’d like to get rid of,

  • are struggling to let go of guilt associated with a person or situation, or

  • have a regular trigger situation that sets you off and you’d like to react differently,

then book a free call and we can discuss options for sorting that out…in as simple, manageable and comfortable way as possible.

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