Updated: Apr 8, 2022
"Even if I don't know what you've done, you do!" are the words my father used to joke to me to instil a bit of fear and guilt and hopefully behave myself. It's also the essence of many religions, particularly Catholicism. And it serves a purpose - it can temporarily generate empathy and connection and there could well be chaos and anarchy if everyone went around doing exactly as they wanted without a concern for other people. Unfortunately, religion is full of moral hypocrisies and denial of human nature.
Beyond keeping order in society and the odd bit of empathy, guilt tends to keep you small, holds you back from doing what is truly right for you.
Guilt can prevent you from having loving relationships and fulfilling your purpose.
It also goes a long way to preventing you from receiving and holding onto money - because deep down you believe you don't deserve it. If that feels familiar to you, you're not alone - especially if you come from a religious family.
What Is Guilt?
Guilt is an assumption that your action(s) has brought (or could bring) more harm than good, more negative than positive, more pain than pleasure to someone else.
Before we can dissolve the guilt we need to understand a basic principle:
The universe (yep, we're going there) exists in perfect balance. Everything exists in pairs of opposites - north & south, hot & cold, good & bad, pain & pleasure, kind & cruel, generous & stingy, support & challenge - you get the idea. Kinda like The Lion King - it's the Great Circle Of Life, and it rules us all.
Nothing is either good or bad, only thinking makes it so. - William Shakespeare.
To nature and the universe everything is neutral - there is no good and bad, only our human judgement makes things so. And human judgement is fluid. For example, during the nineteenth century, opium was widely used as an everyday remedy for common ailments and widely accepted. Now it is considered a class-A drug or you need a medical license to administer it.
In ancient Greece and Rome homosexuality and orgies were considered the norm, then for a few centuries they were deemed heinous and deplorable and now they're coming back into fashion in some western countries. It's all highly subjective and things are bad or good depending on the meaning we choose to give them. Meanwhile, the universe and the wise know that everything is neutral.
Not only this, but all humans exhibit every personality trait and behaviour, in their own unique way, and it's only moral judgement that decides whether something is right or wrong. I know that's tough to believe, but as Holocaust survivor and psychotherapist Edith Eger states "we all have a Hitler within us". This statement recognises that we all do things like lying, cheating, killing (be it mosquitoes, spiders, rodents, wives), depending on what we consider necessary at the time and believe will bring us the greatest benefit.
And while we're on the subject, there were plenty of people during the time of the Holocaust who believed that what Hitler was doing was good and right. It is all subjective.
We all have a hero and a villain in us, and we can't get rid of one and have more of the other, it's just how we are. Part of our learning is to own and love our villain and much as our hero because there's no getting rid of it, no matter how hard we try.
Great, but what does this have to do with guilt?
Morality tends to bump up against human nature and that is often where guilt chimes in, especially in the context of religion, but I'm not going off on that tangent.
In order to let go of the guilt that's weighing you down, you need to open your mind to the reality of the situation, which is that whatever you did brought the person equal positive and negative. Currently, you're only aware of the negative.
It's time to open your mind to the other side.
We'll start with two simple questions:
What did you do? Get specific on what action you did. EG "I ran over a cat with my car".
Whom specifically are you feeling guilty towards? EG "my neighbour".
Now here's the fun [hard] part:
Ask yourself how your actions helped them.
What unexpected gifts did your actions provide?
What did they gain from what you did?
What lessons did they learn?
What connections did they make in response to your actions?