I’ve been thinking. I know, that usually gets me into trouble but I do it anyway.
(I could be constantly counting things or even reading every passing sign like the geriatric in Forget Paris… or, well, thinking is probably ok when you think of what I could be doing.)
But anyway, how much of my life is hindered because I’ve messed up in the past and am scared of feel unworthy of trying again in the future?
What about the guilt I feel for things I really shouldn’t feel guilty for at all? What has that guilt kept me from doing?
Maybe I’m not the only one who has this problem, hmmm?
(This, my friends, in writer-ese is called The Invitation. If you never suffer from guilt, you now have the opportunity to say, “Self, this post is definitely not for me because I’m pretty cool with, well, everything. I shall go elsewhere to spend my internet minutes.” BUT… if you do see yourself changing behavior because of guilt, this is your INVITATION to continue reading and see if I shed any light on the subject. It’s a gamble. Hope you take it.)
As I was pondering the subject of guilt I decided there are different levels of guilt. There’s Lessor Guilt a.k.a. the Hot Wheels Guilt (because Hot Wheels are so little and racy), which is what you might feel for oh, say, wearing jeggings or going through a can of Aquanet hairspray once a week in the 80s when you shellacked your bangs into lofty splendor. Or perhaps you pegged your pants or wore leg warmers, both of these are crimes of the Hot Wheels variety.
(In retrospect, there was a lot to be guilty about in the 80s. But there should be NO GUILT about electing Ronald Reagan as President. I heart Reagan.)
Perhaps you didn’t follow through on a commitment or you stole your sister’s allowance money… these are definitely worthy of guilt, but fall into the category of Hot Wheels Guilt.
Then it gets trickier with the Greater Guilt, a.k.a. Elephant Guilt.
While we’re thinking about Elephant Guilt we run into, oh, say, cheating on the significant other, vomiting everything we’ve eaten as a regular practice, throwing shoes at our children in anger (or at President Bush during a press conference), bullying someone, sending hate mail, lashing out at our spouse with the intent to hurt them, committing date rape, taking advantage of people who were trying to help us.
The Elephant Guilt gives us trouble. Justly so.
Finally I see Undeserved Guilt, a.k.a. Bystander Guilt.
Bystander Guilt mostly stems from our upbringing. Personally, I feel massive amounts of guilt if my house is not spotless because I was raised to believe I should have my act together as an adult and proof would be a spotless countertop or seeing the living room floor instead of a carpet of Lucky Charm bits and babydoll body parts.
Others might not have my particular issues, so Bystander Guilt might be feeling like you’re betraying your dad when you having fun with your mom because their divorce is still messy. Feeling awful you can’t buy your 12-year-old daughter a Coach purse and your 16-year-old son a brand new Chevy 4-wheel-drive truck. Or putting your kids in daycare so you can work because without the income your family will literally be broke and homeless.
These are all real issues of guilt but not necessarily items we can control or even invited into our lives.
All of us walk around with Uhaul trailers of Hot Wheels Guilt, Elephant Guilt and Bystander Guilt. The problem is, if we don’t unload our figurative Uhaul we aren’t able to travel where we need to go, get into parking garages or even go through fast food windows!
And we all know a life without access to a Taco Bell drive thru window is a life hardly worth living.
So. What to do with the Uhaul? Here’s what’s working for me:
1. Identify. Take inventory of your guilts. Write them down. Give yourself a solid chunk of solitude – maybe three or four hours – to take stock of what is weighing you down and whether it’s a Hot Wheels, Elephant or Bystander type of Guilt. Once you’ve identified the problem you’re 60% toward the healing!
2. Hash It Out. Put your brave face on – you may feel guilt because you should feel guilty. That’s because you have something called a conscious to alert you when you’ve crossed the moral line! I know, I know, that’s crazy talking because we’re all perfect… oh, wait a minute, I’m not perfection personified?! Oh. (Someone alert my husband and children! I don’t think they know!)
Guilt alerts us to areas of infection in our relationships and for that, I recommend being grateful. Guilt shows us where we’ve messed up and gives us an opportunity to create healing.
To work through your guilt figure out what needs to be addressed. Some guilts hold you back from your full potential, so stop letting something else run your life!
3. Seek Resolution. If you’re a Christian, the first thing you must do is make your wrongs right with God. If you’re not a Christian and you’re reading this, I’d suggest you learn a bit more about how Christianity works, because there is nothing else you will find that will give you absolution like the forgiveness of the being that created forgiveness.
When you have an Elephant Guilt, if it is at all possible go to the person and ask forgiveness (unless that will cause more harm).
For example, one of my friends had an incredibly rocky relationship with her dad. It had been years since they talked when she began feeling the heaviness of their discord. After a lot of praying and gaining the maturity to realize she needed to say she was sorry whether he apologized to her or not, she called him. They talked, their relationship was restored over time, and today she has been freed from that Elephant Guilt. That’s good stuff!
For the Hot Wheel Guilts, decide what’s worth holding dear. I bless and release all cases of mistaken name calling or asking a chunky woman if she’s pregnant when she’s not. Oh, and fashion errors! Especially if made before the age of 18 because we all know children and teenagers have NO FASHION SENSE WHATSOEVER. Is there any other explanation for why Uno showed up wearing mittens, a scarf, shorts, sequined shoes and a t-shirt that said “I heart Hugs” and wanted to go out in public?! I think not.
Bystander Guilt has to go back from whence it came. It has no place in your life if it does not align with your own integrity. You’re going to experience guilt because life happens and people hurt each other, it’s just part of the human condition. So make sure the guilt you’re carrying is a product of your own belief system, not someone else’s. Life is too short to store someone else’s baggage in your Uhaul.
What advice do you have for releasing guilt? If this makes sense to you, please share it with your friends, co-workers and, oh, yeah, your Jewish mother. Or just your mother who was in labor with you for 36 hours and has never let you live it down.