Monday Musing – Why Do We Feel Guilty?
In my endeavors to be who I am meant to be, I read a lot of books on spirituality, personal growth, religion, alternative medicine and wellness. I ran across an older book that was first published in 1979 called “What You Think of Me Is None of My Business”, by Terry Cole-Whittaker. It is all about letting go of belief systems that no longer work for you, or as a fellow coach calls it “breaking down your structure of knowing”. One of the first chapters is around the circle of guilt, and in it Terry talks about two kinds of guilt: false guilt and true guilt.
False guilt is the guilt that is laid on us by others because they are trying to control us and make us responsible for their lives. The reason that it is false is that we are not doing anything we should feel guilty about. True guilt jumps up and bites us when we are suppressing another person mentally, physically or spiritually. In other words, when you deprive another person of their happiness and self-expression, or when you deny the other person the support they need to believe in themselves.
It’s interesting to note that we feel guilty if we are suppressed, or if we are the suppressor. And, in almost all cases, we behave in either of those ways because of fear. Most of us fear that other people, both friends and family, would not hang around with us if they could choose freely.
Terry shares a passage in the book that struck me so profoundly that I have read it six or seven times. It is the definition of a true relationship. Let me share it with you:
“I love and support you to be all that you are and all that you are not. I love and support myself to be all that I am and all that I am not. We are in this relationship because we choose to be and not because we have to be. I will not harm you or harm myself. Each of us is capable of being, doing, and having what we want. …. From time to time when I’m giving myself the permission to love myself, it may appear to you that you are the one who has showered me with love feelings. The reality is that the love feelings I feel when I am with you come out of me.”
How many times have you felt guilty because you thought you were doing something that was wrong, and because of that you felt unloved and unworthy? Think about that “wrong” thing you were doing. What made it wrong? Think about the people or types of people that made you feel resentful, angry or guilty. What do you fear?
One of my clients has lived almost her whole life striving for approval from her parents. She drove herself hard to be successful monetarily because she thought that was what they wanted to see. When she chose to step away from that life, she felt enormous guilt over not providing for her family because she was always expected to be the strong one that everyone could turn to when they were in trouble. This limiting belief created a circle of guilt that stopped her from taking the steps she wanted and needed to take to become her own person. It also created resentment and anger, and came dangerously close to shattering her familial relationships.
When you recognize that you don’t have to play the guilt-anger game, you can stop making yourself and others wrong. This stops the negative perpetuation of guilt and allows you to create a new script for freedom. Ask for what you want, and allow others to articulate their feelings, needs and wants as well. The key is to be honest with yourself, and open yourself up to others so that you might love and support them, as well.
Just for today, I give myself and others the breathing space to feel, think and behave as we choose to feel, think and behave so that we might be all that we are.
How might you turn from guilt to love today?
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