We humans also have some pretty ingrained ideas about dualistic thinking - there has to be a good and a bad, a right and a wrong, us vs. them. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the emotion of guilt and noticing how it is tied quite often to taking undo responsibility for things that don’t belong to us. When we take on responsibility for things that are out of our control or power – guilt won’t be far behind.
Often we take on responsibility for the reactions of others. How they experience us or we may take on the responsibility of the results that happen from a team or a business of several people – as if we alone are able to create the results that occur when a group works together.
Maybe someone can help me understand the reasoning behind how we operate as a society in situations like a sports team that isn’t winning. Rather than looking at what can be done to change things up with the players who are playing the games, or try a different strategy – the coach gets fired.
Or a business whose sales are down, often in corporate systems, the CEO is fired, as if they are responsible for all the actions taking place in the people within the company. Is it just that we need someone to blame? Someone must pay for things not going the way we want them to??? Responsibility for all the things that go into success or failure are up to just one person? Do we as a society just need to deem someone “guilty” for the performance of an entire group? For our pain? Do we just need someone to be "wrong" so we can feel less guilty?
Guilt has a bunch of stuff wrapped up within it: A feeling of wrongness, potential punishment (real or imagined), self-esteem/worthiness/enoughness, rescuing – see the previous Sandy Chat on the Drama Triangle.
Boil it down… guilt = FEAR. Where there is fear there is guilt. “99% of guilt has nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Guilt is really a self-condemnation & self-invalidation of our worth and value as a human being.” – Dr. David r Hawkins M.D. Ph.D
The story goes – a man walks along the beach and sees a fisherman with pail of crabs. “You’d better put a cover on those or they will get out!” The wise fisherman replies “No, actually there’s no need for that. When one crawls up to the top, the other crabs reach up and pull him back down into the pail.”
This is a lot like how guilt works sometimes. We work to rise higher, become our best selves and then start to feel the “pull” of responsibility or obligation a.k.a. GUILT. We are both the crab about to climb to freedom AND the ones in the bucket pulling ourselves back down in the pile by listening to guilt and responsibility that doesn't belong to us!
My therapist, Joy, has a favorite line she says with frequency to me… “It’s not our job to vibrate for anyone else.” Just as it’s not someone else’s job to make me happy (that’s my job), it’s not our job to take on the responsibility of happiness or the experience of another person. We can only help others through our example of our own happiness – not by climbing back down to a lower frequency.
Guilt is a lower frequency. It's about punishment typically. It leads to self-rejection, self-sabotage, even projection of self-hatred onto "evil" other people. Studies would indicate that guilt is even the basis of many psychosomatic illnesses.
So what benefit do we get out of feeling guilty? It only serves us if we see it for what it is intended to do - provide us with information. Guidance on how we might choose differently next time. It's purpose is NOT to drive decisions. Doing something out of a motivation of guilt is really just letting our inner critic run the show. That is that voice that nags at you internally. It is NOT connected to your joy, happiness, or fulfillment – it’s function is emotional risk management. It’s goal is to protect, keep you small and safe. Sometimes we actually need this information, but when it becomes the leader in most of our mental patterns, we will suffer, big time.
Sounds True is currently offering a series of talks on self-acceptance. I’ve heard some excellent tips on how to show up out of a motivation of love rather than guilt/fear. To take these steps, we have to be willing to take charge of our minds – not just hand them over to the media hype, negative conversations we find ourselves in, our need to be liked or seen as positive and agreeable.
When guilt/fear is our motivation, we abandon ourselves. Letting guilt be our decision maker, we have turned our backs on our own wisdom and our heart because we turn our measurement of our worth over to someone else. Some great questions I’ve picked up in the Self-Acceptance Summit for when guilt is trying to run our decision making:
From Tara Sophia Mohr-
When we operate out of guilt, we are often hoping we will somehow be seen as enough by others. Worthy. Someone will validate that we are “okay”. This is a super destructive way to live. When we don’t believe we are already worthy and enough, just as we are, we will reach for “other-esteem” to fill our void of self-esteem. This fix is temporary – have you noticed??? It feels good for a minute, but it actually makes the inner void worse & keeps us reaching for what we already are. We just don’t know it yet.
Self-esteem requires a clear understanding of our limits of responsibility. Where we don’t have control or power – we don’t have responsibility. Where we don’t have responsibility, we can regret, but no guilt. Our fear of disapproval from others is venturing into an area where we don’t have any power/control. Others will experience us, based on how they feel about THEMSELVES. Always.
When we accept and have compassion for ourselves, our guilt lessens. When guilt pops up – trying to shame ourselves for feeling it…ummm… that doesn’t work. You’ve got to have compassion for your guilt. Accepting that guilt is there and soothing it is the only way to quiet it. You have to meet it head on, with love. Guilt is trying to protect you, it just doesn’t understand that you’re not going to let it be in charge of your decisions. Here is what you might say to it when it shows up…
“Hey guilt. I see you, I know why you’re here. We are going to be okay – no matter what. No matter what the consequences are of the decision – we are going to be okay. I’m going to make the decision, so you can relax. Thanks for caring about us.”
It’s kind of like how you might tell your mom, in your most loving way, to butt the hell out.
Guilt has a purpose and it can help us become our best selves when we use it to learn how to make better choices going forward. Guilt can be a "department head" but it makes a terrible CEO. Check in with the information it gives us, but love needs to be the decision maker and leader of our lives. Love and knowing we are worthy simply because we are a child of the Divine, THAT is what has to be in charge of our decisions and our feelings about ourselves.
Perhaps guilt is irrational 99% of the time because it’s driven out of a need to gain approval and esteem from other people. We don’t have control over that. Since we don’t have control/power over how others choose to approve or experience us – it means we don’t’ have responsibility for it. There’s no benefit in feeling guilty for things that are out of our control – other than to remain in a victim mentality. It’s just self-punishment.
When you feel guilty, ask yourself “what is the information in that?” See if you can find what the lesson is and then drop the guilt – it has served its purpose.
Try this one on for size this week... rather than buying into guilt and undo responsibility as a motivator, couldn't we accomplish the same or more with a motivation of love? If the quote below holds true (and I feel it does), if we operated out of love rather than fear, at least 51% of the time - wouldn't we show up in a more loving way not only with ourselves, but also with others? Let's give it a try! Let me know what you learn. Choose love over guilt and see what happens, just for fun.
Sandy Edie Hansen
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