Healing from Guilt
From the beginning of human history, each generation has taken on guilt and passed it down to the children. Parents, children, friends, spouses, partners and others have used guilt for behavior modification, punishment and revenge. Institutions like businesses, governments and religions have used guilt to keep people in line. Guilt is so much a part of the fabric of our culture that it seems quite radical to suggest that it's been a mistake.
But it has. Guilt (and its relations, shame and blame) have been a plague that has cost humanity untold pain, suffering and despair. They've too often caused us to feel bad about ourselves and to do less than our best.
The bad news is that we have loads of this stuff inside us and lots of people ready to help us take on more. The good news is that guilt can now be easily removed and kept away. (Since they are so similar and the release process is the same, I'll include 'shame' in the term 'guilt' from now on.)
Many believe that guilt is a feeling. However, on closer examination it's clear that guilt is a mental thing that 'infects' feelings. It's like a foreign substance that gets into or around emotions, like an infection in a wound.
Emotions, even the powerful negative ones, are meant to be felt and moved. Without guilt, feelings like grief, fear or anger can flow smoothly and move through us. We feel the feeling - and then it's gone, leaving a space that can later be filled with joy, excitement, power or other emotions. For instance, grief without guilt feels warm and smooth, like love. Fear without guilt feels like excitement or anticipation. Anger without guilt feels like power.
However, emotions with guilt in them are much more difficult to feel. They hurt. Guilt in or around a feeling causes it to abruptly stop and start again. This jerkiness in the otherwise smoothly flowing feeling causes a pain-like sensation we interpret as 'feeling guilty'.
The easiest way to deal with feelings infected with guilt has been to deny the feelings. For many of us this has been crucial to maintaining self-esteem and keeping our optimism high enough to go on with life. The problem with this is that denied feelings don't go away, they submerge and stay unconscious. This creates an opening for the split off parts of us (that experienced the feelings and are now unconscious) to repeat destructive or unwanted patterns of behavior.
Denial is only a coping mechanism. Real healing can come only when the feelings are felt and the guilt is confronted and removed. Although the suggested practice that follows is very easy to do, it can facilitate very deep healing.
The truth is that you and I, everyone... we are all innocent. Many have believed that guilt has been necessary to keep us from doing 'wrong' things. But this isn't true, a good conscience does not depend on guilt, but rather on a self-assured sense of what is right and wrong.
In fact, guilt erodes conscience by degrading self-esteem and even causing self-hatred. With enough guilt, a person can get in a position where they feel obliged to prove to themselves and the world just how bad they are. Also, because emotions with guilt are hard to feel - they get denied, and are no longer available to us. Without honest feelings to inform us, it is difficult to achieve that self-assured sense of right and wrong that makes a good conscience. The healing of guilt is in releasing the judgments that hold guilt in place.
In healing guilt it is important to remember that we are here to learn. Learning is a trial and error enterprise. Sometimes we make mistakes, we do things we don't wish to repeat. So we learn. If, however, in the learning process we get infected with guilt - we then feel bad, sometimes really bad. A learning experience turns into an internal crime and courtroom scene with the feeling of guilt as the primary punishment.
Learning is part of growing and evolving, and mistakes are excellent feedback in the learning process, if they are used as such. Our culture has taught us that making mistakes is bad, but this is not true. Mistakes are the norm in trial and error learning, and in fact they are necessary for learning and evolution. Learning is already hard enough without being punished for the mistakes that are a necessary part of the process.
The punishment and obvious result of negative judgments is guilt. Guilt erodes the sense of self worth and makes it very difficult to feel feelings that have been infected with it. Depression is often the consequence of guilt-bound feelings that cannot move and are therefore denied. Guilt is held in place by judgments. Release the judgments, and the guilt goes too. And because judgments are decisions, they are easy to change. The secret is simply to decide again. Take back your original judgment, change your mind, undecide, unjudge.
There is a powerful step-by-step Process Coaching practice of Judgment Release that makes it very easy to heal guilt, blame and shame. Before reading on, do this now to understand how powerful and easy it is to heal guilt in yourself.
Whatever it was that caused you to judge against yourself, it's not wrong, it's a choice. We have free will and every choice we make is valid, and particularly valid when it's used as a learning experience. Release each negative judgment until there are no more. That's all there is to it, when the judgments are released you are free again to decide about how you will feel and act in this and similar situations.
Guilt and blame are a continuum. When it is in us, it is guilt. When it is in someone else, it is blame. Guilt we feel impossible to own ourselves becomes blame when it is projected out onto another. Releasing judgments (blame) against others is just as liberating as releasing them against ourselves. Just say, "I release the judgment that (person's name) is bad because they . . ." and "I release the judgment that . . . is bad or wrong." Either way, guilt or blame, it's ours to release.
Does it seem too easy? You may find yourself very pleasantly surprised at the deep and permanent positive changes that occur when judgments are released. At first it may seem like nothing has happened, no thunderbolts or deep feelings need accompany the quiet release of judgments. Judgment making is a mental activity, and so is judgment releasing. Although these mental constructs have a very powerful influence over emotions, they are as easy to release as forming the intention and thinking the thought.
The effects of judgment release are often subtle at first, but always cumulative. The more often you stop to release judgments when something bothers you, the easier it goes next time. Also, after just a little practice, the releases will go very quickly. After some practice, often all that is necessary is to realize you've had the judgment, and it will automatically release.