Mental Wellness Challenge
Last week I challenged you to take some time and write down values that are important to you. I hope you found the challenge worthwhile! No doubt, your values will change as days go by and if you are attentive to “what’s important to you”, you will end up with some core values that lay at your foundation. I have been doing this work for a few years and still find shifts and changes in my values foundation… Every once in a while, a value will bubble up that I hadn’t previously considered.
This week I’d like to do a little “spring cleaning”. This week I’d like to share a little bit about guilt and the clutter that accompanies it.
To do this spring cleaning, I’d like to share some definitions related to guilt.
Some really quick definitions of terms that are going to help me do some of my spring cleaning.
Guilt: – My adult definition of guilt is my internal feelings of anxiety, shame, regret and/or disgust for being incongruent with my values.
Remorse – Internally applied guilt. Remorse for me tends to be actions I take, intentional or otherwise, that are the product of guilt.
Atonement – the act of making reparations for a wrong doing. For me atonement is different than an apology. Atonement may or may not include an apology. Atonement is a corrective action – a purposeful act that works towards changing behaviour.
Apology – A sincere, purposeful expression of remorse for hurting someone else. To me, an apology is part of atonement. An apology without corrective action, without changing the actions that cause the hurt for someone else is hollow, meaningless.
Forgiveness – Forgiveness is a gift I give myself. Forgiveness is the letting go of my internal sense of being wronged. When I truly forgive – I give myself permission to let the feelings of being hurt by another person, or myself, go. I can choose to forgive another person for their actions – but if I do so, I have to do it sincerely. If I am going to forgive someone, I have to let go of the negative energy that came with being wronged. This negative energy eats at my well being, so sincerely forgiving someone who hurts me, is a gift for me.
**NOTHING OUT THERE CHANGES**
I grew up the child of a mom who used guilt as a motivator and a tool of discipline. I grew up being “guilted” into doing things I would have rather not done. Guilt often took the place of encouragement. There were times when my mom’s remorse for different things provided me with bicycles, toys, food (LOTS OF FOOD), cash. [Ahh Haa – guilt and reward!!!] So – I had a different, less productive definition of guilt when I was a youth and into my young adulthood.
I struggle now with old learning being in conflict with new learning and my new understanding. My old habits of manipulation through application of guilt are contrary to my values and my new learning. I am a work in progress.
Anyway, back to my challenge for the week.
As an example of doing some spring cleaning, I will share an experience that I have recently had.
I recently made some comments, statements and observations that went against my values. I was upset by a direction that had been given to me by another person and I went to work of positional argument rather than interest based discussion. While the facts and experiences I put forward were true and relevant, I wasn’t mindful of my values and I delivered my argument in a way that hurt the other person’s feelings. While my intention wasn’t to hurt the other person’s feelings, the damage done by me being a “bull in a china shop” lead to the other person feeling “accused”. This was the old me trying to push buttons and pull levers and turning dials to get my position out there.
The piece that I own is I knew I was being contrary when I was doing it, and I still did it anyway. I acted in opposition to my values. I felt guilt for doing what I did.
I needed to address my guilt… I addressed my comments in the same forum that I made them. I then made a sincere apology to the person that wronged. My atonement is the corrective action I will take in the future to be mindful of the ways in which I interact with other folks. This is an intentional addressing of the incongruence between my actions and my values. Lastly I am choosing to forgive myself for the actions I took.
I know that this sounds pretty cut and dry, but the whole process was days long.
This all goes together to “spring clean” a bit of my guilt clutter. Forgiveness is for me. If the person that I wronged chooses to forgive me, I would sincerely appreciate that – as it goes to reparations to the relationship. However, I can’t make that person forgive me. I can’t change them – I can only change me.
My challenge for the week.
- Take some time to have a look at your “back pack” and look inside it to see what guilt you are packing in there. (I am pretty much always amazed at the amount of guilt I have in my back pack.) Pick one item that you can address. If you’re like me, and I’m not suggesting you are, there is likely a selection of goodies to work with. I also suggest that you start small. There might be “things” in your backpack that you may need some help from a professional cleaning company (councillor, psychologist, therapist) to take care of… you will know those when you see them.
You might only get through one piece in the whole week. This process takes time and we have working lives too.
- Get the thought, the issue, the guilt out of your head and put it down on paper. I find this a strong tool in the clean up. (sort of like picking one box of stuff in the garage to sort through and deal with)
- Identify the why you are feeling the guilt. What part of your value system is at odds with your guilt? Write that stuff down. Get it out of your head and on to paper. Be honest with yourself here. This is a tough task.
- Identify what intentional acts you can take that will help to realign your actions with your values and make note of this on a separate piece of paper. How can you fix this? How can you sincerely atone for wrong. Don’t fool yourself with this one. You have to do your best to be sincere and committed here. I’ve been at this stage and not followed through… That led to more guilt for me. I’m not perfect, sometimes I have to see the same lesson over and over to make it stick.
- If your guilt is the result of hurting someone else, an apology might be a part of the spring cleanup. Make the apology. IF YOU DO APOLOGIZE, MAKE IT COUNT. Make the apology sincere, honest, and backed up with corrective action. There might be instances where an apology would do more damage to the other than it would do good. This is a values call you will have to make. This is likely one of those instances where a professional cleaning service is called for.
- Forgiveness. If you have recognized your error/mistake, if you have made corrective actions, if you have apologized where appropriate, then there’s no reason to hold that guilt in your back pack any longer. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. I like to perform this intentional act to confirm this forgiveness to myself. I like to take the paper that I wrote 1, 2, 3, and 5 (if you wrote this down too) and I like to either ball it up and throw it away or better yet, I like to toss it into a campfire. This symbolizes the release from the guilt that I was feeling. NOTE THAT I KEPT THE PAPER THAT I WROTE #4 ON. I KNOW that I have to correct my actions through intentional acts and keeping that paper with #4 on it is a mindful act that reminds me how I can stay congruent without holding the guilt.
SO, that’s my challenge for the week.