Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Guilt is a cancer. It will confine you, torture you, destroy you as an artist. It's a black wall, it's a thief.
I have felt guilty many times in my life. I've experienced that 'caught with your hand in the biscuit jar' kinda guilt. Or the 'gossip behind someone's back and they find out' kinda guilt. I've screwed up, said or did the wrong thing, neglected to say or do the right thing. I've done it. You've done it.
The person who says they have never felt guilty should feel guilty because they are lying to you.
This blog however will feature on the guilt I have experienced in recent years both as a result of my actions and my poor mental health. Some of the details are extremely sensitive to me and difficult to talk about. There will be others who if they read them will probably find them even more difficult. It is not my intention to cause more pain, but instead to be completely honest.
'It is not my intention to cause more pain'
Over the past few years in my life, guilt has played a significant factor, not in making me depressed but in keeping me there. It has felt like a massive chain wrapped around my neck, constantly tugging, constantly pulling me down and restricting me from moving forwards. I want to explore that guilt in two different categories.
* My guilt because of actions to others
* My guilt because of actions to myself
Without needing to go into detail, about 5 years ago I made a massive life altering choice that caused tremendous pain to one person in particular but also to a lot of others. It was my choice. I made it. I accept responsibility for it. I am incredibly sorry for it. But for 5 years the guilt of that decision has haunted me. Try and try though I did, I could never find any peace. Despite being forgiven by everyone else, I could not forgive myself.
I completely get what Dave Grohl said. Guilt is a cancer. It affects every facet of life. How?
It makes you believe that your mistake makes you unworthy of any happiness.
You become terrified that you might make the same mistake again.
In trying to find forgiveness for yourself, you worry about what others think of you to the point of obsession.
You deliberately reject chances of progress because you feel they are undeserved.
You accept a crappy life because you feel you deserve it for how you hurt others.
From aged 0-18 (without trying to sound like a narcissistic prick) I never really failed at anything. Everything came pretty easy.
From aged 18 - 24 here's a wee list of some of my greatest hits.
I left the degree I also wanted to do because I convinced myself I 'got a call' for ministry.
I had a crisis of faith which I compensated for by starving myself.
I lost 4 stone in 3 months, becoming weak, broken and suicidal.
I ended up unemployed, in inpatient treatment and subsequently out of education.
I worked for 2 years in a job I disliked and was ashamed of.
I made the aforementioned 'life altering choice' causing great pain to others.
I was incredibly mean (pushed away) to the person who taught me many things of which I am only truly understanding now. They were only trying to help.
We only getting started ;)
Despite receiving years of therapy and investment from others I remained addicted to my destructive eating disorder.
I finally convinced myself I was in a good enough place to back to university and my teaching degree.
I dropped out of that too (yes that's three university courses now)
My bulimia reached the worse stage it had ever been.
I ended up in inpatient treatment again.
After receiving a high standard of care shortly after I became just as addicted and destructive again.
I hurt the same person from my aforementioned life altering decision again.
I pushed to get a break from my job to go pursue a teaching English course in Prague.
Within a week I was back home again, after having a massive breakdown and blowing just over a grand.
Surprise surprise I went back to my eating disorder to help get me through.
I became stuck in another job, having little desire or belief to progress in life.
Oh and a few wee bonus points
I stole probably hundreds of pounds worth of food from my family.
I binged on probably around an average £2 per day of crap for around 4 years. (You do the maths)
I stopped playing hockey, meeting friends and numerous other hobbies.
All of these things (both to others and myself) had combined to make a massive 'guilt chain' that was constantly weighing me down. Guilt was incredibly destructive to me.
Safe to say, something had to change. Something had to shift.
My Tips for dealing with Guilt
1.LET IT GO
Aw nice one Darren, let it go. Why didn't I think of that one. Cheers mate, I'm cured.
Obviously it's not the easy but that is in essence the place I had and you have to get to. Letting it go. Not giving guilt (an inanimate emotion) the foothold in your life.
LET IT GO - but how?
2. UNDERSTAND A FEW THINGS
Your mistake does not define who you are (unless you let it)
Every single one of us has and will continue to make mistakes as we journey through this thing called life. It's inevitable - we're flawed. Some of these mistakes will have a higher profile and greater consequences but none of us are immune. We all make mistakes.
In much the same way that a sportsperson cannot live off former glories for present success; we cannot experience true present joy if we are plagued by past guilt. It just doesn't work.
You are a heck of a lot more than the worst thing you have ever done. And a heck of a lot more than the best thing you've done for that matter.
When you made the mistake you were not the person you are right now. Even if the mistake was only yesterday. You are you now. In this moment. You have a capacity for kindness and a capacity to make the right choice. Fight to not let your guilt define you.
No amount of kindness will ever erase the original mistake
No doubt many of us have things in our past that we would love to change. We would perhaps pay a large sum of money to go back and erase certain decisions or actions. I know I would But you can't.
You can't undo the past
You can't unsay the thing you said.
You can't undo the thing you did.
You can't ungo the place you went. (Ungo should for sure be a word.)
Put simply, what's done is done. And it will never be undone.
I will come to trying to make amends in a moment - that is slightly different. But the lesson here is that no amount of kindness will ever erase the original mistake. It is made and you can't take it back.
Should you spend your whole life trying to atone for that mistake you will never undo the mistake. This is not a workable strategy for dealing with guilt.
3. Seek Forgiveness (Even if it doesn't come)
As I said, you can't undo the original mistake. That's not a license to say f@@k it and just move on regardless of those you may have hurt.
When the time is right, genuinely seek the forgiveness of the one you have wronged. Don't make excuses or try to defend yourself. Man up or woman up and be honest enough to say 'I was wrong' and "I am sorry." Sometimes that really is all you can say.
Some mistakes can benefit from attempting to make amends or by showing extreme kindness to the person wronged. But that can only go so far.
The person you have wronged may not forgive you. They may never forgive you. That can make the guilt more intense and convince you it will never go away.
But you see the forgiveness is not in your hands. It is not your decision. The apology and the making amends is in your hands. Yet that forgiveness is beyond your control. If they choose not to forgive you after all your efforts - THAT IS NOT YOUR GUILT TO CARRY.
THAT IS NOT YOUR GUILT TO CARRY
In case you didn't get it - THAT IS NOT YOUR GUILT TO CARRY
4. Dare to forgive yourself.
I was forgiven for my life altering mistake. I was truly forgiven and that meant the world to me. But I never forgave myself. Even after forgiveness came, I tried and I tried and I tried to smash that feeling of guilt with more good actions. Convinced that someday I would do enough so that I could forgive myself. The actions never got me there.
I had already been forgiven. Yet as amazing as that was, and as thankful as I was, it wasn't actually the forgiveness I needed the most.
It has really only been as recently as this last few months where I have finally forgiven myself for something that happened five years ago. I still hate what I did. I would still change my actions if I could.
But you see I can't. I will never be able to.
My guilt actually helps nobody. It clearly chains me up but it does nothing (really) for the person or people I hurt. My hidden torment won't make them feel better or take away their pain. I have to forgive myself or I will be trapped for the rest of my life.
5. Make a better choice in future.
The past is gone, that has been established. It's a massive cliche- "learn from your mistakes" but it is true. Obviously we cannot predict or control the future. And we cannot erase or amend the past. Which really leaves us with now. Just now. This moment. Because it's always today. When tomorrow comes - that will be today too. Even yesterday was today when it happened.
One of the biggest ways of dealing with guilt is by providing yourself with evidence of making a better choice when faced with the same situation. Being able to prove to yourself that you have learnt the lessons and are now a better person can really help relieve the guilt. It can be a reminder that although the mistake will always be there - at least it doesn't have to be repeated.
6. Talk About it
Like most negative things guilt thrives in silence. It thrives when you keep it to yourself, bottle it up and carry the weight on your own shoulders. Society as we know encourages you not to share your mistakes - or the times you've messed up. It's a best foot forward, put on a mask kinda culture we live in.
Let me encourage you to share your guilt. With a friend, with a family member - perhaps someone you don't know. Allow that guilt to be something that is voiced, not some powerful chain whirling around inside your head, that is nowhere to go.
In admitting guilt, you are in essence admitting humanity. Admitting that you're not perfect. And guess what, the sky won't collapse when you do that. And the right people will stick by you.
I am always contactable on social media should you ever wish to talk or offload anything. Given the guilt I have carried, I can say with total confidence you will not be judged.
Just please do not carry guilt alone.
You don't have too.
Hopefully something that we've explored here will give you the inner belief to accept that you can beat this guilt. You can forgive yourself. It can get better.
Guilt is Cancer
I hurt others
I hurt myself
Guilt can be beaten by:
Letting it go
Daring to forgive yourself
Making better choices
Talking about it
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
I'm not usually a motivational quote or video kinda guy but this is pretty powerful.
If you find this helpful please do over to my INSTAGRAM where I post short clips, polls and additional bite size information to supplement this blog.