If you’re a “people-pleaser,” you might be all too familiar with feeling guilt. I want to share how a conversation with a woman named Sarah transformed into a powerful lesson about the nature of guilt.
During our first mentoring session, I took her through a visualization where the words “chaos” and “organization” surfaced. Sarah’s house, her basement in particular, was in a state of chaos, preventing her from putting it up for sale. As I typically do when helping clients design a plan for a soul-aligned life, I spent a few months healing Sarah’s unaddressed trauma.
When the time was right, Sarah took it upon herself to start organizing her space room by room. Although she made progress, it wasn’t as much as she hoped. The overwhelming clutter in her basement made it difficult to stay accountable to her plan. She couldn’t find the time for it, and we soon realized why.
The insight that arose was simple: Sarah constantly prioritized others over herself.
She was always on-call for her daughter and grandchildren, offered lengthy conversations to friends and colleagues in need, and always found something “more important” to do than clearing her space. Setting boundaries and respecting her needs lead to immense guilt. Sounds familiar, right? Many of us struggle to put ourselves first, often feeling guilty and doubting our decisions.
In Sarah’s case, the real reason why she remained stuck for years went much deeper. Raised by alcoholic parents who couldn’t fully be present, she developed a protective armor as a child. She constantly tried to accommodate, adapt, and address their needs to keep the peace. By pleasing her parents, she could maintain harmony within the home. This armor also shielded her from the unbearable pain she experienced as a child. “I put on my people-pleasing armor so I can concentrate on you, not me,” Sarah said during our session.
Your protective armors were formed in childhood when you felt unsafe, unheard, or unloved.
These walls protect you from experiencing unpleasant feelings. If you experienced trauma in your childhood, your armor helped you survive. As an adult, when triggered, you may instinctively entering protection mode. Sarah was surprised to see how this armor, created so many years ago, still persisted in her life as an adult trying to enjoy her retirement. Our “Aha” moment came when we realized that Sarah’s people-pleasing armor activated automatically whenever she wanted to do something for herself.
The armor that once protected Sarah as a child was limited her as an adult.
Sarah’s realization was profound, perhaps because it wasn’t just intellectual understanding. I guided her through a soul journey, allowing her to dialogue with some of her wounded parts, including the people-pleaser within. This conversation, held in a meditative state and supported by the healing energy I sent her, allowed wisdom to emerge from her soul. Upon opening her eyes, she smiled and said, “I get it.”
Now, we needed to address Sarah’s guilt.
Guilt arises when two values conflict. It persists as long as these conflicting values remain on the same priority level.
When you experience guilt, it often highlights conflicting values or beliefs that you hold, creating tension inside. To resolve this, you must first acknowledge and understand the source of your guilt. Through self-reflection and self-awareness, you can identify your conflicting values and work towards aligning them with your soul. In Sarah’s case, doing the inner work allowed her to reassess her value of “helping others at all costs.” Her well-being was important too.
You can work through guilt by learning to re-prioritize your values.
Sarah realized that honoring her soul’s needs and putting herself first was one of her life lessons. By prioritizing honoring her needs over her value of helping others, she was able to start working through her guilt. This didn’t mean that Sarah lost her naturally empathetic, caring nature. She simply understood that it was one of her spiritual lessons to balance caring for herself and others. Using guilt as a catalyst for change marked the next evolution in her spiritual journey.
When you’ve lived with guilt for a lifetime, it’s essential to understand your conflicting values and adjust their priority levels.
When you experience guilt, it signals that an aspect of your life or yourself requires attention, reflection, and ultimately, a change. By using guilt as a catalyst, you can uncover the spiritual lessons hidden within your emotional landscape and embark on a journey of self-improvement.
The spiritual lessons are unique for each person. Each of us is a soul on a journey. Once you begin to explore the lessons to be learned that lie beneath the surface, you can move towards self-compassion, setting healthy boundaries, or learning to prioritize your own needs alongside those of others.
Your spiritual lessons are here to transform your guilt into an opportunity for growth and healing.
Reflecting on the countless conversations I’ve had with clients (and myself) about guilt, I recognize three common forms:
- The guilt of prioritizing self-care when others need you.
- The guilt of not dedicating enough time to family members.
- The guilt people carry from past actions or inactions.
These universal struggles present opportunities for growth, self-awareness, and profound understanding.
Two of the Beacons of Change Twelve Practices for Living at Full Power – “Turn challenges into opportunities” and “Create your own turning points” empower us to accept responsibility and choose to accept guilt as our teacher.
So why is it so hard to let go of guilt?
- Handling guilt can be hard because it comes with self-judgment, blame, and criticism. When you’re caught in a whirlwind of these emotions, it can be tough to distinguish guilt from other feelings.
- Unwillingness to take responsibility, because responsibility brings fear and is perceived as an overwhelming effort that entails difficulty or burden.
- Lack of desire to let go of negative conclusions or emotional pain because they justify certain behaviors. In Sarah’s case – as long as she kept holding on to guilt, she didn’t have to change her behavior, set boundaries, and get serious about clearing her space.
- Investing excess energy into letting go of guilt can amplify it, leading to a broader range of difficult emotions.
Instead of attempting to let go of guilt, a more effective approach is to experience it without judgment.
The human mind labels things as either “good” or “bad.” When you categorize guilt as a “bad feeling,” you end up facing not just the emotion itself but also your negative perception of experiencing it.
What if the guilt you experience is neither good nor bad but instead serves as an opportunity for a reality check?
Judging yourself negatively for feeling guilty creates an emotional response that evokes more negativity. The result is a vicious cycle that exhausts you while preventing your soul from moving forward toward new experiences.
You might be asking, “So should I let go of guilt or not?”
Instead of putting effort into releasing the guilt, use it as a catalyst for change.
- Love and forgive yourself for feeling guilty.
- Give guilt the compassion it deserves.
- Identify your values in conflict.
- See if there is a way you can bring more balance to them.
- And look for the spiritual lesson.
When you start to embrace the guilt you feel as an experience, not as a “bad” emotion to be judged, you open up the space for inner growth. You are no longer a victim of your emotions but an empowered individual using your experiences to evolve on your spiritual path. Sarah’s story in this blog is a gentle reminder that guilt is a universal experience, especially for natural givers and sensitive people. Learn to accept guilt as your teacher, and you’ll be surprised at what you might find.
If guilt is causing continued negativity in your life and you’re looking for a guide to help you find your spiritual lessons and embrace your full potential, consider working privately with me.