Updated: Apr 8, 2019
Another way to look at guilt (in this flash fiction)
I answered the door to a draft of cold air and stifled a moan. He was dark, ugly and far too big.
Guilt moved to come in, but I blocked him.
“What is it this time?” I asked, hearing the fear in my voice.
He just stared. Through me.
A nervous silence stretched, until I blurted, “It is my assistant, isn’t it. I yelled at her, and now
I am supposed to feel guilty. But, uh, I can't; I uh don't have any more room. None”
In a vaguely threatening voice, Guilt asked, “No room?”
I panicked and quickly added, “I, I'm so overloaded; there is no more room!”
He gave up trying to come in and leaned against the doorframe, pretending he did not care.
“So you are hanging on to the old guilt,” he said. “Why?”
“Hanging on?” I asked.
He looked irritated as he said, “Guilt is just a feeling that says, ‘You missed the target.’ When you yelled at your assistant, you missed your target of treating people considerately.”
“Yes, yes,” I said impatiently. “What did you mean by hanging on?”
He shook his head and sighed.
“After you make yourself feel badly enough, long enough, you have paid for missing the target.”
He looked at me like I was stupid and added, “Once you have paid, you are supposed to let it go.”
My eyes dropped to the floor. Silence surrounded us.
Finally, I whispered what had never been said, “After all this time, I still feel awful about hurting my sister. And she died.”
I looked up with tears in my eyes and pleaded, “How much time is enough?”
Guilt shrugged and said, “How should I know? My job is to help you with the next load; but, I have to say, you have never needed much help.”
Suddenly angry, I yelled, “Well I have too much now! I can’t take anymore!”
Guilt leaned over me with his towering bulk. I cringed.
His voice rumbled, “Like it or not, you already feel guilty about yelling at your assistant.”
I slowly eased back.
He straightened, and with a sarcastic edge to his voice said, “Besides, you are the one in control. You can change your behavior and hit the target, or you can change the target.”
I frowned and began a question, but he shook his head and asked, “How do you feel when you overeat?”
I fumbled to switch topics and said, “Bad. I feel guilty.”
“But you are not overweight.”
“My mom told us that eating too much is hard on the digestive system.”
Guilt laughed and said, “So your mom set the target. When you overeat is it really too much?”
Thoughtfully, I said, “No, probably not; but wait. Do you mean that I can reset the target and make it okay to eat more?”
With some excitement, I added, “Or I can decide not to have a target at all!”
Guilt turned to leave.
“Wait!” I shouted. “Deciding targets is about stopping new guilt. How do I get rid of the old?”
He stopped, looked back, and with unexpected kindness said, “You can, of course, forgive yourself for being hard on your sister. You were children; you were doing the best you could; and she died from a heart operation, not from anything you did.”
As I turned back into the warmth of the room tears flooded my eyes. I softly whispered, “Forgive myself?”
Note - Let go of old guilt with (gentle) self-forgiveness every time we feel it.
That was fiction. Much of this is reality:
Besides evaluating targets, an effective way to stop new guilt is, of course, to stop rationalizing: like the time I was getting together with an already married woman.
This is what I wish I had done...
I am in front of her house waiting in my car. I have been here awhile, thinking about how easy it is to fool myself.
My daughter once told me that anything can be rationalized. I wanted to object but could not. It was too much a part of my life.
There have been times when I have fudged my taxes, used pirated software, skipped some of my work at work and spent more money than I could afford; and that is the short list.
But being with a married woman might be okay: I am divorced, and she is separated; she is more than okay with us getting together (because her husband did it first, with her best friend); and, she had been thinking about divorcing him anyway.
Besides, we are both adults, and it would be wonderfully consensual.
Am I rationalizing? Why do I feel so uncertain?
Yes, of course I have a basic sense of right and wrong, but I have rationalized around it before, just as I have rationalized around my spiritual beliefs.
How then can I separate rationalizing from reality?
Her car turned into the driveway; she was early.
Silently, she took my hand and led me in to the couch. She hesitated and then sat next to me.
The silence stretched.
I cleared my throat to ask, but she abruptly said, “I’m not sure we should do this. I mean I want to, but…”
In that moment, I realized how I could always know rationalizing from reality.
I cleared my throat again and proceeded to list the rationalizations I had been telling myself.
As I reached the end, she began to object, but I stopped her with, “On the other hand, you are not completely over him. In fact, you might end up staying together; and any relationship we have would only muddle your situation.”
I paused and then added, “But mostly, even though you are separated, I would feel uncomfortable being with a married woman.”
She looked relieved, and I felt the loss.
But on the way home, I marveled at the solution. How to separate reality from rationalizing? Easy. Reality needs no explaining -- ever. If I am telling myself it is okay, I can be certain it is not.
Also, the amount of wrong always equals the amount of rationalizing. The bigger the possible offense, the more rationalizing I need to stifle the feelings guilt (before and after).
Judging by the amount of rationalizing I was doing over her, I would have been left with a heavy load, and I would have had to repeatedly (over time) tell myself it was okay.
Although I felt the loss of her (and the fun we could have had), it was worth it: I felt a stronger sense of self-esteem, more inner strength and no guilt.
But, as I said, that is the way I wish it had gone.
Which one? You know, the positive change that will most lift your life?
You have felt excited about the change -- but always struggled to keep going.
I couldn't stop losing that struggle, even with small changes like less TV, earlier bed or a better diet.
And I really thought there was something wrong with me: for not having enough will power; for having too little self-discipline.
But no, there was nothing wrong! . . . Not with me. . . Not with you.
Free: 4 simple steps to ease and release even the strongest inner-struggle.
And that one, positive change? Will lift your life permanently.
The Power of Becoming Your Own Best Friend
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For more on the topic of guilt and how to forgive yourself, ' these 2 links:
The very foundation of personal improvement is self-care/self-love. At this link: