Many years ago, a very wise person told me that “guilt is not a feeling, it is a fact.” It took me several more years to fully comprehend exactly what that meant. If guilt was not a feeling, and I could wrap myself around that reality, then I could be free of at least half, if not more, of the burden I was carrying around about my own person. But first, I had to be able to separate the fact from all of those feelings. That isn’t as easy as it sounds, because guilt feelings can be nothing more than a habit picked up in childhood and never dropped, through out a lifetime.
But, at least I had a starting point and that was better than none. We all carry guilt around, for both real and unreal reasons. Guilt is a hell of a motivator, when it comes to carrying out what we have decided, or chosen, as our responsibilities. And we all know people, individuals who carry far more than their fair share of responsibility. Always busy taking care of something or someone else, with never enough time to just sit back, relax and take time for themselves.
Freedom entails responsibility. Yet those overly burdened individuals, seem to have missed that point, given up the freedom in order to be the responsible people they are and have become. I often wonder what they think they are guilty of and how long they will continue to operate under the seeming mountain of guilt that they obviously feel a need to atone for. Vicious cycle, that one. It can and does often end up being the reason for disastrous choices that result in lives never lived fully, or far from happily.
So how does one separate the fact from the feelings? Carefully. Because there is a delicate balance in all things, there are those out there who never take responsibility for anything. They are experts at pointing a finger, laying down blame and walking away free and clear. Or do they? The best example I can think of is Adam in the Garden of Eden. When faced with God’s possible wrath for breaking the rules set up, Adam didn’t take responsibility, he shifted it to Eve, and then to God Himself, by saying in effect, “Don’t look at me, it was that woman You made for me that did it. She talked me into it, and I just didn’t have any choice in the matter.” Ahhh, poor man, he obviously didn’t know that one always has the choice to say no. Good thing God knew and still held him accountable.
But that is a good place to begin that sorting out that I spoke about earlier. Do you have anyone in your life who is constantly pointing a finger at everyone else, other than at self? If you are someone who picks up guilt feelings like a magnet, it might be a worthwhile endeavor to see if that pointing finger has homed in on you and if you have accepted the flag of guilt that it portends to.
Unhappy people have a tendency to complain and often wag a finger in the process. I have been dealing with someone like that lately. It is difficult to point back at the source, but I’ve actually done that on occasion. Most often, that falls on deaf ears, but at least I am able to remind myself that I haven’t done anything wrong and I am not responsible for that individual’s happiness, she is. It would be wonderful if she understood that, and maybe some day she will. One can always hope.
Most often, I head for my journal and talk it out with myself. I sort through the feelings until I find the facts of any given situation. If I don’t do that, I will walk around with a burden that is vague and uncomfortable, and definitely puts a cramp on my own freedom of thought and action, and negatively affects the simple pleasure in this life I have created. It doesn’t take more than a half hour to do so and the rewards are a lighter me, who can then go about my own life far more freely.
The flip side of that coin is to be honest when you ask yourself, “Did I do anything wrong?” I’m not talking about thoughts, or feelings. I am talking about actions taken. Remember, this is about facts. Thoughts and feelings are not facts. They do not become facts until they are acted upon. And the act is the only part of this that retains any possibility of guilt. And once that is determined, one has a definite path one can choose to take, or not.
That is not to say one should dismiss negative thoughts and feelings. One should, and can choose to explore them and try to discover their source. Perhaps, when it is discovered, it will lead to a change of heart, or even acceptance. And those are definitely to be counted in the freedom columns. They will also allow a wider of range of choices in actions, and thus, far less guilty feelings.
But what happens when you find that the guilt is indeed a fact? Again, new paths are immediately opened. A simple acknowledgment of the guilt, immediately lessens the burden of the whole. Apologies are difficult for some, but they often suffice and release a great deal of positive energy into a world that desperately needs more of that commodity. And that might lead to an action that will redeem or nullify the original one that caused all of it in the first place.
An act of recompense is definitely the individual’s choice. It doesn’t have to be public, or even stated as such. I once gave someone a gift to replace something I had inadvertently lost. I felt no need to explain and the individual was pleased with the gift and none the wiser. The individual never missed the object, but I still felt a need to do what I did, and get rid of the feelings attached to the experience. And it did just that. I made recompense and was glad to do so.
Some actions do need a more public recompense. But again, that is up to the individual. Giving ones self the opportunity to finally put paid on anything that will result in new freedoms is worth the effort. Getting rid of whatever load of guilt one carries is, and can be, an incredible experience. Allowing one self to know that guilt is never a feeling, but is a fact, is one of the healthiest things one can do for oneself.