What would you say if I told you that I found something GOOD that comes out of feeling guilty? If you’re wired with a guilt meter that runs high, you’re going to want to read this.
What Is Your Guilt Meter Default?
On a low to high scale, where does your guilt meter hover?
- low — in fact, you’re not really even sure what I’m talking about. Guilt, what guilt?
- medium — it’s more of a situational thing with you
- high— you NEVER ask for help or favors. When someone offers to assist you, your automatic, pre-programmed response is, “No, that’s okay,” or “No thank you, I’m fine,” despite knowing that you need it.
If you found yourself identifying with the last group, it may not have anything to do with guilt. It could mean that you’re extremely independent and prefer doing things solo. Which is great. But if you fit the full description, including the last part of the sentence — not accepting someone’s help ”despite knowing that you need it,” well, your default setting on your guilt meter might just be set to high (or maybe you’re just stubborn that way).
Guilt is one of those things I lump together with worry; there’s really no place for it. No matter how you slice it, guilt really doesn’t do you much good.
And although worry does absolutely no good for you 99% of the time, there is that tiny, little 1%, where on occasion, worry will force us to get off our butts and do something about a problem. And for that reason, I give worry its 1% credit.
So, when I heard Gary Zukav (who, by the way, I admire his work a lot), say that guilt serves no constructive purpose whatsoever, I remember thinking, Then why does guilt exist? Really?… no purpose at all? Surely there has to be a reason, even if it’s a tiny 1% reason.
If worry could be used as a tool to help us take action, then couldn’t guilt be used as a tool for something as well?
The Good of Guilt
What if, in every instance that we feel the familiar pang of guilt, we used it as a reminder tool? Like an alarm clock. What if, every time we experience the feeling of guilt, our internal alarm clock goes off and reminds us, “Hey! Pay attention to this feeling. This feeling is here to remind you to do better next time.”
A typical scenario might look like this: we make a choice, a bad choice, then afterward, we feel guilty, beating ourselves up over the gossip we just engaged in, the lie we told, the third helping of cake we ate in secret, the temper that we allowed to flare out of control.
But, what if in the exact moment we hid the evidence of the eaten cake, or lied about eating it, or whatever we chose to do, what if when we felt that pang of guilt , the very instant that we felt it hit our lower abdomen, we reminded ourselves NOT that we are a bad person, but that WE’LL DO BETTER NEXT TIME?
Yes, we choose to use guilt as a reminder to do better next time.
Now, I’m not suggesting you don’t hold yourself accountable for your actions — that’s a whole different topic. You should, must, take accountability for the part you play in a situation, but once you feel the guilt, instead of using it as a weapon to beat yourself up with, use it as a reminder to do better next time you’re faced with the same situation. Just as an alarm clock reminds you to wake up every morning, the feeling in your stomach can do the same.
Benefits of Using Guilt as a Reminder
- once your body becomes accustomed to your alarm clock going off every morning, it no longer needs it, except for the rare occasion of an early morning flight. The same principle applies to the feeling of guilt; it will become an automatic reminder to do better, eventually the tool will no longer be needed, except on the rare occasion.
- just as your alarm clock wakes you with no judgement, the practice of using guilt to remind yourself to do better, will gradually shift your actions. There will be no reason to slip into your old habit of judging yourself.
- you’ll stop assigning negative labels to yourself
We all experience guilt from time to time, but it doesn’t need to have a life of its own. It doesn’t need to torture or torment us. Trust yourself — by choosing to change the way you think about guilt, you can use it to serve your better good.