Letting Go of Guilt

You know what? I’ve bought into the Nigella Lawson school of thought, if it comes down to [insert guilt inducing thing] or my sanity, I’m letting my sanity win. That Lawson was really talking about taking short-cuts in the kitchen, in no way diminishes the valuable life lesson buried within the pages of one of her cookbooks.

When the hits keep coming, finding some way, any way, to frame a philosophy for coping, becomes such a critical task. And, in the end, letting go of guilt, at its core, is really just a decision to prioritize your needs – your sanity – above the things you think you aught to do instead. It’s the understanding that self-care isn’t selfish.

The way I see it, there are essentially 3 types of guilt, and for each an appropriate response;

1 – Justifiable Guilt: you’ve done something wrong. You’ve through malice or through carelessness caused harm. You’ve been cruel or rude, or simply lacked empathy in dealing with another person (or group of people); or damaged something of importance. Now is the time to make restitution; apologize, work to reverse the damage you’ve done, “pay the piper”.

In the end, the solution to justifiable guilt is absolution. The accepting of responsibility and the finding of a way to make up for your actions.

2 – Self Imposed Guilt: you think you’ve done something wrong, in your heart you feel guilty, even if intellectually you know you’ve done nothing wrong. For me, this is the guilt that comes from having to say no to someone (or something else) in order to say yes to me. I’m putting on my own oxygen mask first, prioritizing my sanity. This one is hard, especially for someone like me who is driven to be superwoman, to be an incredible friend, a competent manager, an attentive and contributing member of my family, and community.

I’m still learning to manage my feelings around self-imposed guilt. It is exceedingly helpful to have conversations like I did last night with an old friend, the reassurance that I am not the only person inevitably failing at doing it all. And, I am forever grateful for those around me, who are supportive when I find the words to say, I’ve reached my capacity and cannot do more today.

3 – Guilt Imposed by Others: this is the most contemptable of the guilt, when someone projects their own issues, their own insecurities, or (worse still) their own selfishness onto another human being. It is often in times of intense pain, grief, and trauma that we find ourselves subjected to the very worst that others have in store for us. Often, this is also the guilt that requires the most drastic (and often unpopular) response.

I’m not prone to religious sentiment, but there is a passage in the Bible that holds truest for those who impose guilt upon others – “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. One of the hardest things in the world, in times of self doubt and of intense guilt, is to accept and let go of the guilt that is imposed upon us by others.

What Kind of Guilt Is This? You need to really dig deep and find out what kind of guilt you are feeling (spoiler: its probably a combination) before you can let it all go. Own it, own your failings, own your faults, and own the pressure you place upon yourself. Be honest with yourself, is the guilt justified? Then solve it, make restitution, resolve to cut yourself some slack, put physical space between yourself an those who seek to impose upon you.

Much thanks for this post go out to my childhood friend Ilona; for the wine, the real talk, and the scratch-made dairy-free treats for dessert.

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