My default emotion is guilt.
Tasks not done? Should’ve worked harder.
Mistakes along the way? Should’ve worked smarter.
Someone else struggling? Should’ve helped more.
I advocate owning your reality. Steven Covey identified taking personal responsibility for our lives as Being Proactive, the first of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But, Houston, we have a problem.
Wikipedia defined guilt as “an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated universal moral standards and bear significant responsibility for that violation.”
Psychology Today points out that guilt “has been described as a self-conscious emotion.”
Looking at both definitions, it’s striking that guilt comes as a result of our own belief that we compromised our own standards. I cannot escape my own conscience.
How can I be satisfied when I fail to meet my own standards? How do we define our standards when they vary so wildly by individual?
I’m worse dealing with critical comments. Added to my critical self-evaluation, it becomes a nasty spiral. I remember an assistant principal nonchalantly making a comment about my classroom while passing in the hall, despite the fact she never spoke to me about it officially, and angrily piling that upon my own perception of failure.
I remember every remark, even regarding something as minor as a household chore. I make an effort to avoid these mistakes again, but it raises the stakes higher for next time.
And, it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes, good deeds cannot go unpunished, either.
My brother used my vacant house as an Airbnb for several months due to a work situation, which included compensation, and was adamant about paying. I felt guilty taking any money. (Conversely, I think he’d feel guilty staying there duty-free.) And then, he helped prepare my home for sale. I feel like I’m in his debt.
I recognize I have a problem. But, understanding guilt as a self-conscious emotion presents an opportunity to alter those perceptions within myself.
One thing I’m attempting is the “Welcoming Prayer,” recently recommended by a friend. It consists of three parts:
Focus and sink in: Focus on the feeling. Feel it completely, and observe how it physically makes you feel similar to meditation.
Welcome: Welcome the feeling, such as “Welcome, fear” or “Welcome, anger” and acknowledge it’s existence in order to respond.
Let Go: Speak the bolded lines below and LET GO.
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God’s action within. Amen