You might think this idea sounds nuts, but I'm finding that really examining what we feel guilty about and choosing to look at those moments through a non-judgmental lens can help us much more than we realize. I talk this idea through in the latest episode of the SHINE & SEEK podcast and really delve into what our guilt is trying to tell us and how we can use it as an opportunity to bring our darkness to the light.
Keep reading for more on this topic or jump right in and listen in the player above or by subscribing on iTunes. And be sure to check out the resources I list at the end of this post where you can find out more about Brené Brown, who I mention throughout the podcast. She has greatly influenced how I think about guilt and I wish everyone in the world could be exposed to her work and message.
To break this down I think it’s important to look at what “guilt” actually means. Guilt, as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it, is: "a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong." Sounds like a good gut check moment when you think about it in those terms, but we often don't see if that way because instead of getting curious and looking at it we let judgement and blame run the show.
Simply put, when we let ourselves witness and feel the emotion of guilt it’s really like we’re holding up a mirror to our behavior to see if we like the reflection. And if we don’t, we'll often immediately go in to blaming ourselves and thinking how awful we are when that is probably the least helpful thing we can do, and quite different from taking responsibility. When you get into that cycle of blaming and beating yourself up it’s very easy to slip into shame, which is very different from guilt.
A great teacher on this subject is researcher, professor, and author Brené Brown. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she explains how guilt is the feeling that we did something bad, and shame is the feeling that we are bad. Or, instead of thinking we made a mistake, we think we are a mistake. One is a reflection on behavior and one is about who we are as a human being.
She writes, "We feel guilty when we hold up something we've done or failed to do against the kind of person we want to be. It's an uncomfortable feeling, but one that's helpful. When we apologize for something we've done, make amends to others, or change a behavior that we don't feel good about, guilt is most often the motivator. Guilt is just as powerful as shame, but its effect is often positive while shame often is destructive."
So, if we can stop the blame game and take that opportunity to choose again, learn from our mistakes, take responsibility for them, and forgive ourselves guilt can be something that helps us do better next time. It can be something that moves us in the right direction, instead of something that makes us launch into a never-ending cycle of judgment and blame.
It's really just a reminder from the best version of ourselves that we did something that isn’t in line with how we want to show up in the world, and if we can look at it from a loving perspective we can use that guilty feeling as a chance to recalibrate and reset.
We can ask how we can move through it and learn the lesson without beating ourselves up. We can choose again.
Check out Brené Brown's TED talks and books below. She is funny and real and vulnerable and I hope what she has to say resonates with you and shifts your perspective, even just a little bit.