Dr. Peter Kalellis

Could you say something about guilt? My name is Monica; I come from a very Catholic home. Since childhood, any small thing that I did, my mother’s voice resonated, “Shame on you. How could you do such a terrible thing?

At a seminar I was conducting in Cleveland, Ohio, Monica wanted to know about guilt. Like her, many people who come to see me for therapy suffer from this insidious feeling we call guilt. It took courage for her to reach out and inquire about guilt. “I’m approaching my thirties,” she added, “and still feel guilty even about small things. It seems that my entire life is stifled by feelings of guilt.”

Children who were chastised by strict parents or parenting adults usually have developed a reservoir of guilt feelings. In some cases, such sensitivity to guilt manifests serious problems in their adult life. Sometimes it causes passivity, boredom, and lack of interest to move forward in life.

All people are flawed. Every human being that walked on this planet, one time or another has done something wrong. There may be events mostly in your past that you regret, or things you should have done but failed to do. But a tinge of guilt can actually be beneficial leaving you with a lesson. When your actions fall short of moral standards or violate the concept of fairness, a touch of guilt may wake the better part of you to think wisely and act appropriately.

You know the feeling you get when you experience guilt: a bit like butterflies in the stomach, maybe shortness of breath, perhaps even light-headedness. Treat the symptoms as a definite warning sign for you to practice removing guilt from your daily life. As soon as you get that tinge of guilt, repeat the following statement a few times: Under the circumstances, I did the best I could do with the time, skills and resources I had available to myself, but I have learned my lesson from this experience.

Very often guilt comes from trying to avoid something. You don’t want people to be mad at you; you don’t want to let someone down, you don’t want anyone to be upset because you did something offensive. To eliminate those feelings of guilt, it really helps if you can take a moment and ask yourself, what are you thinking about? Thoughts precipitate feelings. Once you realize how your thoughts affect you, you challenge your views and you try to change them. Soon after you have replaced those guilt-evoking thoughts, the feeling of guilt will fade away.

Suppose that your best friend was rushed to the hospital, thinking he might have had a heart attack. For whatever reasons, you did not go to the hospital immediately to see him. You went two days later, and you found another person visiting your friend. Suddenly, you sense a discomforting feeling, guilt. I should have visited my friend three days ago, what’s wrong with me, you said to yourself, and felt guilty. You realize that such an inference implies that you are trying to avoid being seen as an uncaring friend by not visiting your friend earlier. But something good may come out of your delayed response. Such an incident might make you aware that you want to be a better friend.

Another reason could stem from feeling insecure or not good enough. So when someone says something negative your emotions react to your inner doubts rather than what’s real. One thing you can do is to figure out that particular area in yourself that needs to be rectified. Sometime in your life, you’re going to come across those people who are absolute experts at making you feel guilty. This could be an intimate friend, or your own parent or spouse or child or sibling. Be aware and ask yourself, what is the real issue that is making you feel guilty? Sometimes, it can be that it brings up a past event where you felt guilty because you hadn’t done something then or you had done something wrong. Instead of just remembering the guilt of the past, forgive yourself and respond to the situation with a guiltless feeling.

A primary reason for your guilt can be that you don’t allow yourself to make mistakes or you never forgive yourself for things that happened in the past. Everyone makes mistakes. Every single person on this planet does, but for some reason, some people hold themselves up to a higher standard and think they should be immune from that. Making mistakes is what makes individuals human. Even when things at first go wrong, later you may realize what tremendous benefits you gained from going through the experience. It’s not always easy to appreciate your mistakes, but they honestly can end up being the most incredible learning opportunities or the catalysts that end up causing considerable leaps in mental and spiritual growth.

Why not accept your limitations that you are a human being. Just watch your behavior, let go of negative thoughts and choose not to feel guilty. No matter what people think of you, or your parents, or your friends, you are a son or a daughter of God and you were created out of love. Feel free, whole and wonderful, and be grateful to God for His blessings in your present life.