How do I stop feeling so guilty?
Hi, and thanks for a great question.
A lot of people struggle with guilt, and I was no exception. If I made a mistake, or said something that people didn’t immediately like, I got overwhelmed by strong feelings of guilt and shame. Also, I constantly felt that I had disappointed people around me, especially my father. These feelings made my life very difficult, and I often found myself living a life where I tried to ‘make up’ for the disappointment I believed that I had caused others.
Through meditation, I was able to let go of my guilt and also understand myself much better. I will share my perspective and insights here, and I hope it can open your mind to new ways of looking at guilt, and make you curious about trying out meditation.
What is guilt and the consequences of it?
In order to overcome guilt, it is helpful if we first understand what guilt is and the underlying mechanisms that make us feel guilty.
Essentially, guilt is our mind’s response to a violation of our standards of right and wrong. When our mind, through thoughts and emotions, tell us that we have done something bad or shameful, guilt arises from within. To a certain degree, this serves the purpose of stopping us from doing bad things. However, it also causes a lot of unnecessary suffering.
For some people, their space for maneuver when it comes to things they can do without feeling guilty is very limited. Their minds might tell them that they always need to behave well and always need to be like by others, so even small missteps will trigger a strong response of guilt as a consequence. I’ve found that people who have grown up with overly controlling or critical parents combined with a strong inferiority complex are particularly prone to suffer from guilt.
The suffering is painful and hampers us from reaching our full potential as human beings. Guilt may for example turn us into people-pleasers who have difficulties saying no or stopping us from making brave moves needed to grow and blossom in life.
Why should we stop feeling guilty?
Even though guilt may be painful and make life difficult, a valid question is why we should get rid of it. If we free ourselves from guilt, are we then not likely to become shameless monsters?
What I realized through meditation was that the reason we should stop feeling guilty is because guilt does not exist in the true mind (the original self, or the higher self). Guilt is merely a self-centered illusion, a mind clutter, seen from the perspective of the true mind.
The true mind is the highest and most sublime existence there is. It is not self-centered but lives and exists for everything and everybody. A life lived from the true mind is a life in tune with the flow of nature. It is every person’s mission to find this true mind within and live their life with that mind.
For the same reason, getting rid of guilt will not turn us into shameless monsters; on the contrary it is only in that way in which we can harmoniously coexist in the world.
Don’t appease the guilt
When strong feelings of guilt arise within us, our first response is usually to try to find a quick solution to stop these guilty feelings.
Let’s say that that someone is upset by the way we have acted in a certain situation. In that case, we might need to apologize, discuss the situation or find other ways to reconcile with that person. However, this will not work if our actions are controlled by guilt, which is a self-centered emotion. Since the purpose of our apology or reconciliation attempt is to appease our guilty feelings rather than to actually care for that person, our actions will not touch the other person’s heart, and we will end up in even more agony because we didn’t get the desired outcome (forgiveness, reconciliation).
The example above demonstrates a type of suppression mechanism. It is quite likely that there was inferiority, anger or hurt feelings on our part that contributed to the situation, but we weren’t ready to deal with it and instead let the guilt dictate our course of action. Had we been free of guilt, we would have been able to address issues such as hurt feelings, difference of opinions, misunderstandings or past wrongdoings instead of just apologizing. Without guilt in our mind, we would have been more honest both with ourselves and the other person.
Don’t resist the guilt
As pointed out above, unless we do something about our guilt-ridden mind, it will be very difficult for us to mature as individuals.
What makes our situation so difficult to deal with is that the guilt takes control over our mind, and that we can’t escape its grip. However, here we need to understand the following about how the mind works, namely: The more we resist something, the stronger we hold it.
Instead of resisting the guilty feelings, we need to give ourselves permission to feel them. This will surely feel counter-intuitive at first, but it is a much more productive approach than resisting the guilt and other unpleasant emotions. Allow yourself to go around and feel as guilty as you can. Let the emotions rise within you without trying to control them. Even though this is painful, you will soon discover that the guilt subdues and that you feel lighter and refreshed inside.
The reason why this works is because allowing the guilty feelings is like removing the lid of our internal pressure-cooker of pent-up and suppressed guilt. Another way to express this is that we have started to accept ourselves as we are. Self-acceptance leads to progress.
Use meditation to let go of guilt and cleanse your mind
Put simply: the reason we feel guilty is because we have guilty feelings in our mind. Put equally simply: if we cleanse our mind of guilt, we will no longer feel guilty. Cleansing the mind is thus the final solution to the guilt problem (including other problems related to the mind), and we should look for a place that offers this solution. Meditation is that place.
There are two main aspects to meditation: (i) self-reflection and (ii) letting go.
By self-reflection, we become aware of patterns and underlying frames and constructs of our mind. By letting go we empty our mind from these painful patterns, frames and constructs. As we practice meditation over an extended period of time, we gradually return to the guilt-free, original mind. In this way, our life becomes happy, easy, and rewarding.
In retrospect, you will be able to see that all the suffering caused by your guilty feelings in fact have led you to take step towards self-realization. That was the purpose of your guilt. It was the same for me. I have come to realize that suffering is not bad. It is just a way for the universe to help us look for truth. If we keep our mind open to finding truth, we will understand that all the pains we go through actually are gifts in disguise.
These days, meditation is very efficient, affordable, and easy. Many centers offer remote live-guidance via Zoom or other video conferencing solutions. Having a personal guide is incredibly powerful. Through meditation, you will get to know yourself very well and as you empty your mind you will start to have realizations about your true mind. Meditation helped me tremendously, and I’m sure it can help you too. I can’t recommend it enough!
Thank you for reading. Please check out the short video below. It describes how meditation helps against guilt.