It’s a funny feeling, isn’t it? We feel yuck when we experience guilt, yet often we keep going back again and again to that familiar old sting. Are we masochists? Why do we do it to ourselves? And then when there’s kids involved, guilt skyrockets in all ways. Inadvertently we can pass it onto our kids and then they too get in the guilt cycle.
Time and time again we are told ‘get rid of the guilt’, ‘guilt is a useless emotion’ and for the most part it is, but what if we need guilt? What if it’s not the evil enemy we’re told that it is?
What even is guilt? It’s often seen as an emotion that crops up when we either feel like we’ve done something we shouldn’t have, or we didn’t do something we think we should have.
Guilt can be useful sometimes. It can alert us to something a bit deeper within ourselves that we’re not happy with. Maybe we snapped at our cherubs in the rush to get them off to school, when it was really the shitty traffic that made us run late (*cough* thatmighthavebeenmethismorning *cough*), maybe we forgot to send that important email, maybe we scoffed that last chocolate down. It’s not guilt that’s the issue here, but rather dissatisfaction in the way we’ve handled something- could be anxiety operating at the core, could be self-esteem, could be almost anything. But guilt is what alerts us to something not being right. It’s that discomfort we need so that we can reassess and make a change.
Guilt can be shit too. That’s when it becomes shame. Shame is that more internalised, personalised crud- where we think we’re bad for doing something, rather than just feeling cruddy for doing or not doing something. Shame can colour our everything, and if we leave it to grow, it can transform into even ickier things like anxiety, depression and other difficulties.
The difference here is function. Guilt often jumps us into action, whereas shame halts our process. It gets us stuck. So we need to stop bagging guilt out, and instead label the healthy stuff guilt, and the unhealthy stuff shame. Makes the world of difference when you’re grappling with the ick.
If you’re feeling guilty about something, don’t beat yourself up about it. You know that the ick feeling is an indicator that something has to change, so review what it is that you want to do/ don’t want to do and then make plans to rectify it. That’s it. Talk it over, allow yourself to feel ick for 13.45 minutes and then take action. The longer you hold onto guilt, the less useful it is and the more it turns into shame. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.
Are you a guilt hoarder? Or are you all up in that ‘let it go’ zen mode?