What, in your past, makes you feel indebted to act or behave in certain ways in the present?
What particular choices or situations of yesterday still haunt you today?
If you can answer any of the above questions, you know what it means to live with guilt. We talk about guilt in logical, intellectual terms. People say "Guilt is a useless emotion" or "Guilt is a waste of time" or "Everybody makes mistakes. The point is to move on." All of those statements are true but the problem with those statements is that no matter how many times you tell them to yourself, there are still moments (or minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or decades) where guilt creeps in and takes over.
Guilt is like a bacteria: without proper treatment, it spreads.
But how do you get over the guilt of poor choices made in the past when you live today with the consequences of those actions?
How do you let go of what you "should've" done when what you're doing now still isn't getting you what you really want?
I will answer those questions in my next blog post but before you can even tackle the "what's next" of guilt, you have to get very clear on the extent to which guilt is running your life. Many people think that their lives are run by things like loyalty, commitment and integrity. While that's noble, guilt oftentimes masks itself as one of these noble three. It's important that you know what drives your life so you can sufficiently and completely take your place behind the wheel.
Here are seven signs that guilt is running your life:
1) You do things you don't want to do because you feel you "owe" it to people.
2) You don't take risks or step out in life because you remember what it cost you to do that the last time and you'd rather not step out only to lose again.
3) You apologize ALL the time to EVERYONE about EVERYTHING, even when what you're apologizing for is not your fault.
4) You mentally beat yourself up for past choices and use criticism to force yourself to do the "right" things now.
5) You overcompensate in relationships by being the person who gives the most, takes the most, offers everything and asks for nothing in return.
6) You accept whatever people give you and think that you "deserve" it.
7) You allow other people to throw the past in your face and continue to operate in repentance mode with that person... and the debt never gets paid, you never get healed, and forgiveness isn't given (for you or them).
As you can probably tell by now, living with guilt is a horrific way to live... and yet so many of us do it. Why do we choose to let guilt drive our lives and what can we do to change?
Stay tuned for my next post and find out...