Astonishingly high number of people suffer from guilt. And I know there are a lot said about forgiveness and letting go, however I wanted to emphasize something else, that is not that widely talked about: the irrational side of feeling guilty. I want to talk about why some people prompt to guilt more that others.
This idea came to me when I was working with one of my clients and had to console him about his situation, which wasn’t that different from any of which we all live, managing family and career, taking time off work when your child needs you and, vise versa, saying no to a family entertainment when tomorrow is the deadline for turning in that never-ending project. Haven’t we all been there? Right? And haven’t we all felt guilty, unable to satisfy all sides equally? As a third party I could see clearly that my client’s conflict is one of the easily solvable one: better time management, setting boundaries, so on. But the more we spoke the more the conflict revealed itself: “I am always feeling guilty, even if everything is fine. I am still scared I am not giving enough, not doing enough…” Those words made me think about guilt as something that doesn’t always depend on our actions.
Indeed, we can imagine, that as children we were brought up within a set of rules. What’s wrong for one is good for another. Right? There are, of course, the common sense rules, Ten Commandments and such, something that allows us all live together, be civilized. Then there are family values, that weary from culture to culture, but have the same common sense foundation, securing parents-children relationship and survival of the genes. BTW, I remember reading Osho's "Love, Freedom, Aloneness, where he explains the philosophy behind arranged marriages and the fear of falling in love. As soon as a family member falls in love with someone, it threatens the whole system created to keep family members under control and within a reach. It becomes a matter of free will for that person to care for his elders or take care of his children. It totally messes up the traditional state of play and therefore would be always unwelcome by ‘the family’.
So once one start analyzing why certain rules were established, there is a space to address guilt as something manageable, and not just through a process of forgiveness, even if we are talking about forgiving ourselves.
Often feeling of guilt has got nothing to do with the actual deeds. And is everything to do with our core beliefs. And I really, want to point the particular one, belief of our own worthiness.
We all know how making decisions sometimes can be tough, especially when lives or wellbeing of other people depend on it. It is at that point the wrongs can be made, intentionally or not, and inevitably they are followed by that creeping and crippling feeling of guilt, and shame, if somebody else sees us do it. Living with some choices can be a torture if we didn’t have a one special defense mechanism in place, justification. We can pretty much explain everything after the fact, because, number one, it can be true, and number two, life goes on.
However, there are certain type of people, who find it difficult to just move on, they are tormented by visions of the dreary outcomes of their doings, they toss and turn in their beds, never truly free from the consequences they might have triggered. It is also, interesting, that those exact people, if they had to make that choice again, would totally repeat the pattern. It’s like they are drown to guilt, like they find comfort if suffering. Psychologically, there is an explanation, of course, one can feel superior, admitting to their sins, it’s like they have a thief and a prosecutor all in one, battling each other, or rather the prosecutor beating the thief.
When working with my clients I like to bring a framework of Transactional Analysis to rescue. Within that framework we all have an Inner child, a Parent and an Adult inside us. A Child, just like a Parent love playing games, aim of which is to win at expense of another player, which can be a Child or a Parent within another person. There is an awesome book by Eric Berne “Games People Play” that has dozens of those games documented. Berne also gives a healthy solution: bring in an Inner Adult and get out of the game. He shows what to do in every case. Knowing that they are caught up in a mind game within themselves gives my clients the power to grow out of conflict, as I call it. Take responsibility, become an Adult, according to Transactional Analysis, be real.
Becoming real is often what coaching is all about. Without it nothing will ever change. Time management will just be another tool never used, boundaries - just a word to flip around without any weight behind it.
So how would my client become real in his situation and solve this problem of a job and family interference?
Well, start taking action depending on his values. For some people, sense of living with purpose, doing the job the best their can is a priority. I would say, then stand by it. Do the job. Marry the woman that shares your values, bring up kids that can handle your absence time to time. Most of all, stop trying to be everything for everyone, because that is a game, a game “I am so conflicted” or even better “I am a victim of my conflicted mind”.
What’s so bad about ‘conflicted mind”? Well, conflict eats your energy. I can also say, it’s waists the energy. Here is the article I wrote about solving an inner conflict you can read to learn some interesting details about it. Here I really want to point out this one thing I mentioned: self worth.
How much your energy is really worth?
Who are you? Really?
By answering that question one can determine how long the feeling of guilt will stop them from taking the real action, do what matters.
I can compare this with smoking or drinking, any addiction, actually. Often, people try to play themselves down, make themselves smaller, withhold the energy they have. Why? Because they are scared of being overwhelmed by that energy, being out of control, being destroyed by their feelings. As energy really is our feelings. Fundamentally, all of it has the same basic fear in place: I am no good. What may come out of me, if given a total freedom, is something unacceptable, something bad. You can throw a stone if you never felt this way. I know, you did.
And to answer that I want to remind Marianne Williamson’s famous passage, which I will quote freely here: “when we look inside, what were are so scared of, is not the darkness, but the light, as what we are going to do with that light, once we discover it. The responsibility of that light, the power we really have within us.”
For the guilty parties I have a word of wisdom: quit feeling guilty. If you can change the wrong, go on and do it. If you can’t, let it go. Use that energy you save to do something good, something that matters. Your energy is valuable. You are valuable.
At the end of our session my client decided to stop driving himself crazy with the unmet demands and established firm boundaries within himself: no work calls at the dinner with his family and weekends, no Facebook goofing at the office. He realized he is valuable, what he has, his purposeful job and his loving family are important to him, and instead of playing a game of a conflicted mind, that robs him off giving and loving at full capacity, he decided to just go for it, be real, give it the whole 100% and see what happens. Good thing about being real is that if there is a dentist appointment for one of his kids and he has to step in, he will do it without punishing himself. And if he has to stay after hours to finish that project on time, he will do it, feeling like he’s doing the right thing, because he decided he does. And if he checked out the viral cat video in the middle of the meeting, so what, breaking one’s own rules can be healthy time to time.
What about you? Is there anything you toss and turn over in your life? What can you really do that would actually make the difference? Write down at least three actions you can take to help the situation, then do it. You just saved some valuable energy the world needs from you. Who you can love stronger today? How far you can reach?