Thanks, Guilt !
Some of us, perhaps most, feel or have already felt guilty.
When we feel guilty, we judge ourselves most of the time quite harshly. The feeling can last several days. It is present, underlying and comes back in a nagging way. We consider ourselves unforgivable, regretting what we have done. We are moving away from the present as we are stuck in the past, attached to the act committed. And then, with the passing of time, we end up forgetting. In this scenario, it is therefore only the effect of time that dampens the feeling of guilt. It allows us to detach ourselves from the pain that is eating away at us.
However, it is possible to act in order to stop the feeling of guilt.
Should an act that has harmful consequences lock us up for the future? That is to say, should this act condemn us to stay in the past and in the regret of having done it?
Our prison system demonstrates that a delinquent or criminal act condemns for the future since it foresees the penalty of confinement.
In most cases, this is what we impose on ourselves, since we condemn ourselves until the time has elapsed and we have the sensation of having "served our sentence".
The idea is not to forget the act, but to make sure that it does not take all the space in life. Instead of settling the matter in court, could we not, with our inner judge, settle it amicably with ourselves?
Thus, since guilt does not help to advance, here is a practical case solved using a method proposed by the Mind Gym. Mind Gym is a consulting firm that uses recent discoveries in psychology and behavioural science to transform the way people think, feel and behave, thereby improving the performance of companies as well as the lives of those who work there.
Ilona Boniwell, CEO of Positran collaborated with the Mind Gym as an expert consultant for 5 years.
Practical case :
- X. got a promotion while Y. wanted to get it for a long time.
Y. then told the manager fake stories about X, which led to X being removed from promotion X.
Y. feels guilty following the act she committed concerning X.
How can Y. proceed, using this feeling of guilt, to evolve following this event?
In his book Wake Your Mind Up (2005), the Mind Gym offers a 7-step process to dialogue with oneself in order to find an internal agreement.
1. Identify my belief
- I feel upset and not considered, because I believe that I am always getting less than others, I feel inferior etc.
Let's put ourselves in Y's place.
How can I explain my behaviour? I acted like that because I felt frustrated, wronged, rejected ... What pushed me to do it is the feeling of inferiority, of injustice, I thought that this promotion should have been my destiny.
If I realize that this feeling pushed me to commit an act that I regret, I can see that it has an origin. It is this belief.
In retrospect, I realize that my act was not the optimal solution to manage the situation, but that I would not have known to act otherwise. In short, I did my best.
From there, I can begin the work of identifying the reason why I felt wronged in this situation. This can be done through outside help (psychologist, supervisor, or others) but also by oneself. Indeed, by analyzing the situation more deeply I can try to understand where these feelings of frustration and rejection come from.
Why did this anecdote awaken an injury and make me lose control of my actions? It might be because I lack confidence in myself, do not appreciate my own value, and therefore do not dare to ask to be promoted ...
2. What arguments can I find to contradict my belief?
Make a list :
- I had the chance to study while others do not have the opportunity
- I have already been recognized for my work, for example when I had a pay rise
This setback on the act can help me to start on a new basis.
I can also reassure myself that everyone has weaknesses, that everyone makes mistakes and admit that I am not perfect.
I can mourn the illusion that one should be perfect and that one shoud never make a mistake. Our society does not really help us in this way. It is customary to cover one's vulnerability and one's errors. Dare the vulnerability!
3. If that is not enough, what alternative explanations can I find?
- The person who was promoted asked to be promoted, whereas I never dared to ask anything.
To feel better with myself and to start again, I can also try to see myself as a whole.
Yes, in this situation, I hit someone.
But I have also helped to make others' lives more beautiful in many other situations. I counterbalance my weaknesses with my strengths. I realize that I am a complex individual.
4. If that is not enough: how would it happen if my belief was true?
If it were true that others always have more than me, that I am inferior to them, I would never get promoted.
It would constantly put me in conflict situations with others, I would never have a moment to relax or to trust since I would be in a permanent situation of injustice, I could never hope to succeed in anything in life.
And I realize that this belief is not true since many examples come to my mind where I have been treated equitably and sometimes better than others.
5. If you still cling to your belief: How is this point of view helpful to you? What is your interest in thinking that?
My interest to think that is... None - it disadvantages me in all circumstances and puts me at odds with others.
6. As a result of this dialogue with myself, what can I do to improve the situation?
List options, for example:
- As soon as I think that I have been treated unfairly, I can remember all the times when I was treated fairly or even better than others;
- If I am tempted to commit a similar act, I can reflect on the previous event where I regretted my act, it will help me to see the consequences of such an act and will encourage me to avoid doing it again
- Seek ways of acting constructively rather than destructively, that is, seeking to nourish my needs in another way. For example, going to see my boss and tell him I would like to be promoted.
An act at any given time that makes me sad and not proud does not define me forever and for all that I am.
Of course I would have liked to act differently retrospectively and manage the situation in a positive way for everyone.
I can then ask myself: how could I have managed the situation positively? Or in which way that would have seemed fair to me?
For example, I could have taken this opportunity to dare to question my hierarchy, me, who never dares to do so, seeing that those who dare end up getting what they want. Instead of hitting someone, I could have learned from the situation to progress.
Once the solution is found, I can make a decision.
I can make the decision to start from scratch.
By accepting having committed this act and the regrets that go with it, accepting to be imperfect. In that moment I acted the best way I could. I can promise myself that the next time I find myself in a situation where my injury challenges me again, I remember this situation in order to be able to act in the most fair and suitable way possible, especially respecting my values so that the feeling of guilt does not bite me again.
7. What actions will I take in order to change my belief and my behaviour and when will I do so?
In order to transform such a negative event in the future I can, for example:
- make sure to act more in line with my values;
- to be grateful for being aware of a deep blockage that came out on that occasion;
- start working on this blockage by myself or with help;
- observe me every time my wound resurfaces in order to be able to act consciously in the face of the event, instead of acting on the pulse of the moment.
Another technique for working on difficult situations is to use a cognitive developmental work by Boniwell and Ryan (2010) in the SPARC Resilience program through the identification of our cognitive bias or our small interior limiting voices, such as the accuser, always ready to blame the others or the judge, always assessing if a situation is fair, consistent with the rules, with what "should be"...
So thanks to guilt for giving us an opportunity to progress!
Written by Annabel Bacle
The Mind Gym - Wake your mind up (2005)