What Place Do You Give to Guilt? By Steve Wickham

There is a place we all give to guilt. Every single one of us. Especially those of us who are sensitive and who cannot help but care.

One situation where we’re particularly vulnerable to guilt is in suffering, whether it be grief or depression or anxiety or through relationship breakdown or stunted emotional development. When we are at our weakest we too easily find ourselves flip-flopping between injustice and guilt.

Victims and survivors are inherently vulnerable to guilt, which is paradoxically the last thing they should be feeling.

The problem with suffering in the medium to long term is that we can develop a learned pattern of guilt, where we become polarised into the negative spaces of thought and feeling that produces iterations of complicated guilt. It isn’t so easy to identify or to rectify. It gets complex and murky.

And yet, to resolve guilt is one of the great opportunities in suffering. To be exposed to the kind of guilt none of us really enjoy is, for many of us, the forcing of our hand. We are coaxed into learning how to reconcile this harmful kind of thinking that can easily turn caustic, even toxic.

The nexus of this idea in terms of learning about the role guilt plays in our lives is awareness.

If only we are aware that we are feeling guilty, for any reason, we are able to ask whether it is an appropriate emotional response or not. If we decide it isn’t an appropriate emotional response, then we have the recourse of action at our disposal.

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We may decide that it is high time that we cut ourselves some slack.

We may decide that the guilt we feel is drawing us, appropriately, to a kind of godly sorrow that will prove revelatory if we go deep with God in it.

We may decide that there is someone or something behind this inappropriate attribution of guilt. We may need to shift the balance in the relationship.

Whatever we feel, and importantly with what we feel, we are invited to respond.

And we may respond through the empowering of our choice. Guilt wants us to be shackled to doing things out of duty rather than devotion. Guilt takes us away from joy, which is implicit to feeling spiritually free.

We can choose to do our things out of devotion rather than out of duty.

If we can detect that guilt plays far more a moment by moment role than we are really comfortable giving it, we can change. Having become aware of the size of a guilt, its momentum in us, and how readily we experience it, it becomes more front of mind, and we are able in being aware to choose whether we give it permission or not.

If it isn’t serving us well, we’re empowered to do something about it.

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