Letting Go of Guilt
“I kept thinking, “How’d you screw this up so badly?” I was sure I’d messed my boy up for the rest of his life ‘cause I couldn’t hold things together with his mom.”
Guilt can be a useful red flag that lets us know we’ve done something wrong that we shouldn’t repeat. There may very well be things that happened during your relationship and its breakdown you should feel guilty about. Other times it can be an emotional reaction to something you shouldn’t feel guilty for.
How do you know the difference?
If you’ve done something you know is offensive or hurtful, then that’s reasonable guilt. It’s your mind’s way of telling you you’ve crossed a line and need to make amends and apologize. You should take action as soon as possible. Though keep in mind that the person on the receiving end is under no obligation to accept your apology. That’s their right. You’re the one that fucked up. Part of owning it is accepting they may choose not to forgive you. All you can control is that you make amends and don’t repeat that behavior with them or anyone else.
Then you need to let that shit go.
As for when feelings of guilt are unreasonable, you can often tell because they are attached to things you can’t really apologize to anyone for because they are not the result of any truly wrong action on your part. Do you feel guilty you are happier now that the relationship is over? Do you feel guilty you didn’t end it sooner? Do you feel guilty because your family and friends are “disappointed”? Do you feel guilty your kids now come from a “broken home”? That is the destructive useless crap you can skip right to letting go of.
And this is where reasonable and unreasonable guilt converges; the letting go.
First ask yourself, what is holding on to this guilt doing for me? What are some of the positive things that I get from it? Does it make me feel noble? Superior? Responsible? Like a martyr? Just let that bounce around in your cranium. You’ve been holding on to it so you must be getting something good out of it, right?
Next, ask yourself, what is holding on to this guilt doing against me? Does it make me feel anxious? Does it interfere with my sleep? Does it cause me to overeat, under eat or engage in other self-sabotaging behaviors? Does it make me want to reach for a drink? Does it cause me to strike out at others with anger?
Finally, ask yourself, what would my life be like if I let this guilt go? Worse? Better? Would I be happier? Would I function better? Be more productive? Would I be a better father?
This isn’t an easy process and you’ll likely have to repeat the above many times in order to reprogram your thoughts. However, it’s well worth the continued focus effort.
After you’ve made amends, your guilt no longer serves a purpose.
Let that shit go.