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Guilt Transformed

July 22, 2013

Lots of stuff out there – books, articles, videos – on guilt and shame and the importance of self-compassion.

Today I’m tackling guilt.  Guilt is a feeling that we’ve done something bad.  I’m leaving shame for another post since it’s more of a feeling that we are bad…and handling our relationship with that takes a bit of a different tack.

Here’s my question…can guilt be a doorway to self-forgiveness and compassion?  You probably know what I think before I even answer the question!:)  So yes, I think it’s possible.

And here’s my experience…guilt is helpful/workable for about three and a half minutes.  It lets us know something’s wrong.  But if we’re still swimming in guilt long after our first awareness of it, it seems to keep us imprisoned and immobilized.  There’s no way out other than to keep cycling the same stuff over and over in our minds which ends us up in the same rabbit hole every time.  And weirdly, ruminating about our guilt makes us feel like we’re doing something about the problem when we’re not!!

What if the moment we feel guilt about something we replace the guilt word with the word remorse?   What I’m talking about is transforming something immoveable (guilt) into something moveable (remorse).

Remorse is workable.  We feel remorse when we’re doing something that isn’t consistent with our values and we feel bad/uncomfortable/not ourselves.  And the magic of remorse is that it suggests we need to do something different.  We can make a sincere amends, and more importantly, create a plan to keep it from happening again.

Guilt isn’t workable!!  It leads to self-hatred, self-pity, anger and avoidance.  Remorse leads to learning, self-compassion, personal responsibility and positive action.  Hmmm…I pick remorse!!

The moment we see guilt in the light of remorse, we can literally transform our relationship with it and get on with our lives.  We don’t forget, we don’t pretend it didn’t happen or let ourselves off the hook of personal responsibility.  We do something about it!  So that we can move on and make something worthwhile out of the rest of our lives.

This is something you can try!  Next time you experience that awful, debilitating feeling of guilt, consider asking yourself, “How can I apply remorse here”? and see where you can go with it.  I’d love to hear what happens!


    • Robyn says:

      Thanks for boiling it down Cricket. It’s so easy for me to just stay in my head and not act, which makes me feel like I’m doing something when I’m really just going down the same old rabbit hole! Robyn

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