I sometimes say that guilt is a useless emotion and that I don’t believe in it. Guilt means that I don’t trust myself and my decisions. This thinking is detrimental to my personal growth. I believe we should trust that what we have done in the past needed to be done for some reason.
In her book The Portable Therapist (one of my favorites), Susanna McMahon, Ph.D. writes about how guilt is self-destructive and functioning to make us feel bad about ourselves. It prevents us from being the best that we are capable of being and it paralyzes our actions. Guilt has no viable function in the present. When we are living in the moment, we have no space for guilt. We are living our lives, rather than judging our lives.
McMahon goes on to say that we don’t need guilt because we have a conscience. Our conscience is here to tell us when we’ve done something wrong. In a compassionate way, our conscience says, “Oops, that was a bad behavior.” Our conscience is a guide, a teacher, telling us in the moment what we need to change.
Guilt, on the other hand, is a malevolent dictator. It says, “you are bad,” evil, uncaring. It takes on an all-or-nothing perspective, as in one action makes you a terrible person. It is overwhelming, takes over EVERYTHING, makes it all negative and leads to feeling helpless. It takes over. Now you see the world through a negative and powerless lens.
What can you do instead of letting guilt be your guru? Take responsibility for your actions. Own them, check them out with a trusted and supportive person, and make amends where warranted. That amends may be to yourself. Take responsibility for your behaviors and stop feeling guilty. Guilt can almost be a kind of defense, masking taking responsibility, and keeping you from facing things.
This new way of looking at yourself will give you freedom from guilt taking over. Live in the present moment and release past and present guilt.
These ideas were adapted from The Portable Therapist by Susanna McMahon, Ph.D.