I was super excited when the tv show This Is Us returned for a new season. I’m a fan. But as we watched it one evening, my husband started getting impatient. It was too slow for him, and he got bored. For me, on the other hand, watching it felt like spending time with my best friends. I was totally immersed. Nevertheless, we turned it off.
The next morning, I did something that I hadn’t done in years. I skipped my morning meditation, got cozy with a blanket on the couch, and watched the entire episode. I had the best time. I cried. I laughed. I became emotionally attached to the story. I was feeling it. (After all, I’m an empath).
I did something else that morning that I never do: I made myself breakfast and ate it in front of the tv. Why was that small act such a big deal? Because I have found over the years that it’s healthier for me to sit at the table and eat as mindfully as I can.
Though I skipped my formal meditation practice, I rested my hands on my heart and tummy area while I watched, and the healing energy of Reiki flowed naturally for the whole sixty minute episode. This practice felt soft, tender, loving, and centering.
But when the episode was over, guilt and regret began taking over. I felt some shame for “wasting” my time. I feared I wasn’t walking the talk.
Then I paused. I recognized my gremlin’s voice, and I told it to shut up. I know this little creature and how it can easily mess up my thinking. I also know that if I don’t limit its power, its words control how I feel.
The flow that morning was a stretch for me. It was a good stretch. I did things against my norm. My self-awareness helped me release the guilt. I was okay with how I chose to start my day.
How many times have you done something against your norm—rested, had a lazy morning, broken your routine and later felt guilty about it? Regretted your choice?
Unhealthy guilt is toxic.
Unhealthy guilt is a reflection of fear, unworthiness, and shame. In her book, Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson, Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., describes 21 expressions of unhealthy guilt:
- I’m overcommitted.
- I really know how to worry.
- I’m a compulsive helper.
- I’m always apologizing for myself.
- I often wake up feeling anxious and have periods when I am anxious for days or weeks.
- I’m always blaming myself.
- I worry about what other people think of me.
- I hate it when people are angry with me.
- I’m not as good as people think I am. I just have everybody fooled.
- I’m a doormat.
- I never have any time for myself.
- I worry that other people are better than I am.
- “Must” and “should” are my favorite words.
- I can’t stand criticism.
- I’m a perfectionist.
- I worry about being selfish.
- I hate to take any assistance or ask for help.
- I can’t take compliments.
- I sometimes worry that I am being—or will be—punished for my sins.
- I worry about my body a lot.
- I can’t say no.
Years ago, I did not have the right information. Now I know that most of these expressions of unhealthy guilt are related to being an empath or sensitive to energy. When you are an empath, you care deeply, you feel deeply, and you tend to internalize the pain of others and the world. Guilt, then, becomes second nature.
Healthy guilt is a spiritual practice.
When living a spiritual life, healthy guilt is an essential part of your personal growth. Just like fear, anger, and other emotions, guilt is a messenger. Guilt tells you that two of the values you live by are in conflict. When you feel guilty after saying no to a friend who asked for help, self-love and service might be the two values that are in conflict. When you choose to spend time alone instead of with a loved one, inner peace and connection might be in conflict.
Want to shift out of guilt?
Recognize the two values that are conflicted.
Make one of the two values higher on your priority list.
Be okay with making the other value less important for now.
Unhealthy guilt is toxic. Healthy guilt is a spiritual practice.
Accepting responsibility is different from taking the blame.
One of the women I mentor cheated on her husband. I helped her do the inner work. She became clear with her motives. She realized that she should have left her abusive relationship years earlier but did not have the courage. Cheating was the only way out for her. She wasn’t able to let go of the guilt for a long time. Eventually, she shifted from taking the blame to accepting responsibility (not blame) for cheating on her husband. She learned her spiritual lesson, released the unhealthy guilt, and both of them moved on with their lives.
Self-blame, self-judgment, self-criticism destroy us. They don’t build us. Accepting responsibility for our actions, learning from them, and growing as a person make us stronger and wiser.
I would love to hear about your experiences with guilt in the comments area.