If you have never had an issue with guilt, then this post likely won't offer you up much food for thought or growth. However, there is probably a reason you find yourself here, and I'm guessing something deep inside of you reached out in desperation and necessity upon seeing the words "Guilt Complex". This is for those of us who have struggled with guilt all of our lives.
While I attempt to help others with my own experiences and knowledge through this blog, I have to say before going further that this is a lesson still very much in progress for me. I am not in any way "over" my guilt issues; however I am making stellar progress, enough so that I feel confident in sharing what I've gleaned so far.
Let me begin with a little backstory to build bridges of relate-able allegory so you will know you're among a kindred spirit. As far back as my memory travels, guilt was a constant companion. I recall stories my adoptive mother tells of my first Christmas morning after I was adopted. Having been a ward of the courts, and in foster care off and on for my first four years of life, I was apparently so overwhelmed Christmas morning at the age of four, by the sheer amount of presents in my stocking, that I stood still, almost catatonic, in shock that all of those presents were for me. It took a lot of coaxing and gentle convincing for my new mother to impress upon me that the stocking was only the tip of the ice berg. Something within me did not feel worthy.
At age 6 I recall helping my father rake the leaves outside, and in my haste to be as helpful as I could I remember whirling around quickly to hand him the rake when he asked for it, and whacking him quite firmly on the nose. It obviously hurt him, as he cried out, and put his hand to his face immediately. And my memory is pure guilt, shame, I wanted to run away and cry, I had hurt my father, surely he would hate me now, surely I was the most horrible awkward unlovable child on earth.
The following few decades were fairly consistent as far as those feelings were concerned. I have battled with feelings of guilt since I was a small child, and in fact it got so bad that in my adult life I would find myself feeling guilty of things I had nothing to do with. Confrontation made me feel guilty and shameful. Saying "no" made me feel horrendous and cruel. Even typing the general memories I have shared thus far has created a sensation of anxiety within me, as my skin now feels ultra sensitive, my heart is beating faster, and I feel somewhat nauseated.
What It Feels Like to Live With Guilt
You know how it feels, when someone confronts you with even the most minor of issues, such as "why did you say that" or "where did you put my keys" or even "what did you tell so & so about me?" A well adjusted person weighs the question, and answers rationally. A guilt complex leads a person to feel cornered, backed into a wall, giving rise to the fight or flight instinct. And then you begin to hold yourself responsible for things that are completely disproportionate, and this can interfere with your relationships with others, and how you view yourself.
Living with guilt is like living with a critic who is constantly putting you down, whispering in your ear that you're a fraud, telling you that any time things go badly in life it is your fault.
But this is simple programming, which can be overcome through dedication and self-awareness.
Letting Go of Guilt
First, you have to exhale, because you've likely been holding your anxious breath for so long that you're a stressed out ticking time bomb! Breathe. As I say again and again throughout this blog, oxygen is the salvation we are seeking! Once you get clean deep breaths into your lungs, blood supply, and brain, you allow yourself to think more rationally, and calmly. Breathing is always the first step when dealing with any negative feeling, emotion, or situation. And a guilt complex is the mother load when it comes to negative feelings!
The next bit is the part that requires your dedication, because you need to commit yourself to changing the way you think, and that is so much easier said than done. Our minds are like computers that keep generating the most often used or "trending" topics and ideas. So as the programmer, it is up to you to rewire your hard drive, and start replacing the old coding with new and improved algorithms.
Self-awareness is a journey towards peace, and enlightenment, which does not require a religious belief, or a dedication to anyone, or anything outside of ones self. All you need to do is commit to your own well being, and then start cleansing your mind of the negative trending topics within. Brain washing isn't always a bad thing, and a person living with constant internal guilt feelings could do with a bit of cleansing within. So this is where affirmations can become very powerful tools for changing the way you think, and the habitual responses you have to negative stimuli. When guilt feelings arise, rather than let them drag you down into feelings of despair and self-loathing, step out of yourself and observe; this is self-awareness in motion. Observing your thoughts, and your physical and emotional responses to your thoughts, enables you to see how you operate. And this in turn lets you see beyond the conditioning you've operated within, to start creating new and more healthy habits.
Somewhere in the last few years, I made a decision to stop feeling responsible for things out of my control, and to finally stop feeling guilty for any and everything that isn't completely mine to own. It is enough that I am willing to accept my faults, own them, apologize, and make amends when I mess up in life. I do not need to bend over backwards to accept responsibility when I have not done wrong! Neither do you.
This change didn't happen overnight. It was a few years in the shaping, and as I said earlier, I am still very much working at it. However, sometime before the new year rolled around, it hit me like a tonne of very welcome bricks: something has definitely changed within me. In the last six months especially, something has clicked, and maybe all those affirmations, all the visualization, self-healing, introspection and self-awareness I have dedicated myself to, has finally paid off! Because I am not carrying the weight of the entire world on my chest anymore.
How Does it Feel to Break Free?
I feel free, truly free, from my own self-judgement and inner critic. And I realize it was never an issue of the world making me feel small, or somebody conditioning me to feel guilty; it was always about my own shrunken sense of self worth.
I'm very much a work in progress, just like you, and that is all we are expected to be on this journey of life on planet Earth. We are evolving as best we can, with the knowledge we have, and the skills we are learning. We teach what we are learning, and we share what we have discovered. And that is why this blog exists; so that I can share what I am uncovering about myself, on my own journey, because when I have a moment of clarity, or an epiphany, I cannot wait to share it with you - my kindred spirits and friends, who are on your own parallel journey of awakening and enlightenment. And this is one epiphany I so needed to share with you, because I know that so many of us struggle with guilt, and feelings of worthlessness, and overly harsh judgments of ourselves.
You don't have to be so hard on yourself anymore. The time for that period of your life is done and over, you've learned all you needed to by being so intensely hard on yourself, so now you can glean the lessons, and work on letting it go. Because I promise you, there is nothing in this world, outside of your own thoughts, words, and deeds, that you are responsible for. You are not responsible or accountable for anything beyond your own control. No matter what anyone says, or how others try to make you feel, you must begin to value yourself deeply within, to the extent that you prize your own inner sanctity above all else.
You are worth your own patience, acceptance, and love. Nourishing those elements of yourself will help you reduce feelings of guilt, and before you know it you'll have an a-ha! moment of your own, as you realize "hey, I haven't been hyper-sensitive to guilt in a long while now!"
And that is a tremendous realization to come to. I wish this for you too my friend, as you continue upon your path of self-awareness; be kind and gentle with yourself, you are unique and special, and it is high time you treat yourself accordingly.