Got guilt?Mar 13, 2020
Guilt and grief seem to go hand-in-hand, yet I have rarely found a book, article or other resource that addresses the guilt that many of us experience. It seems to come in three varieties, guilt about the past, guilt in the present, and guilt when we think about the future.
Guilt (or any feeling) comes from the thoughts we think or our beliefs (which are made up of the thoughts we think often). You’ve probably heard the saying, “Don’t believe everything you think.” The truth is that we have many thoughts and beliefs that are simply not true and definitely not serving us.
Thoughts that produce the feeling of guilt include, “I should have known he was suicidal,” “I should have been able to save him,” “I complained about the coffee he brought me in the morning,” and “I was short-tempered with him,” just to name a few. When you feel guilty about the past, it’s a great practice to write down the thoughts you’re thinking.
Maya Angelou is quoted as saying, “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” Isn’t that what you would tell a good friend who is feeling guilty about the past? If only we can learn to show ourselves the same kindness and understanding that we show to our friends.
Present-tense guilt may come from thoughts such as, “I should not feel happy because that’s an insult to my spouse,” or “I did something for myself that he would have not approved of.” Thinking about the future or next steps in our healing also brings about guilt. “I’d love to have companionship,” or “I’d like to date again,” or “I’m ready to live for me,” are all thoughts that can dish out large servings of guilt. Why? Because those thoughts are contrary to our current beliefs about loss. Perhaps we believe that dating again would be cheating, and fully living again would be an insult, or that the length of our misery should somehow represent our love for our spouse.
Beliefs are simply the thoughts we think often. They can be hard to find as they often fly under the radar. When you feel guilt, ask yourself what thoughts you are thinking. What beliefs do you hold in your mind? Then, question whether your beliefs are actually true, your own, current and serving this version of you.
The good news is that we always get to choose our thoughts about the past, present and future, and from there we can build new beliefs that serve us today, and serve the person we are becoming.
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