The Power of Guilt

We've all got regrets--but do you still carry around cringe-worthy tales from your past?  For many of us, these experiences become more bearable over time, but still can make you squirm if you were to really dwell on them.  In dating, the likelihood of breaking some hearts can often be proportionate to how many times your own heart gets broken.  The universe often has a tricky way of balancing these things out.  Karma can often enter the equation, which is one reason, among many, that I try to urge my patients to make their karma a priority and always handle the hearts of others with care.  Unfortunately, though, mishaps can and do happen--even sometimes with the best of intent.  And then you're left with the god-awful byproduct of guilt.  It stares you in the face and can cause many a sleepless night, as you beat yourself up over how horribly you handled something.  The good news is that if you experience guilt, then you are likely to be a good person--as people who routinely hurt others and don't feel bad about it are ubiquitously roaming the planet with us.  Let's hope you don't run into too many of those on your romantic journey:).  Well-intentioned people who put themselves out there, however, will likely disappoint people just as they will experience disappointment and heartache, as well.  The larger point, however, is what do you do with your guilt once it lands on your doorstep?

People often assume that because I'm a therapist that I've never made a mistake.  While my professional training has, of course, brought about oodles of benefit for my personal relations,   I've certainly screwed up before.  Years and years ago, based on my youth and inexperience, I was extremely cavalier with a young man's heart.  Thank God I have the excuse of being in my 20s at the time.  I dragged it out for too long and his heart ended up being the casualty to my bad behavior-- the guilt that ensued was downright intolerable.  It took eons of time before I could truly forgive myself--and that was with boatloads of help from my friends.  The agony of having made a tremendous mistake that I couldn't undo was one that haunted me for longer than anyone could even tell.  I was horrified and embarrassed in front of our mutual friends, and I feared there was no way to truly redeem myself or to ever make it up to this person whom I'd hurt.  

While the guilt felt like a jail sentence, there was tremendous value in doing the time--I learned something.  And it made all the difference of how I handled my romantic life from that day forward.  I made a vow to myself to keep my eyes open a little wider and to never, again, be so careless with a person's heart.  I learned to consider the two of us rather than just myself at the onset of a new relationship.  That experience then bled furiously into my work, and I feel proud that I've had something to do with helping people to drive their relationships more carefully.  I think I've genuinely prevented a few slow-moving car wrecks in the lives of others.  It feels good not only because i love what I do, and I chose a helping profession on purpose, but also has made my own personal driving record a great deal cleaner.  Perhaps I've been guilty of a speeding ticket or two, but so far, no accidents on this end.  While no one's personal life is perfect, I'll put it this way, I sleep well at night and can't really identify anything to feel guilty about at this juncture. Knock on wood.  And guilt-free living is a gift, as most of you just from being on Earth.  

So this one goes out to all the Guilt-Ridden people out there, and I promise you I'm not serving you a side dish of Pollyanna with your steak.  I know what it's like to suffer from guilt--I'm not merely hypothesizing, here.  I KNOW the tossing and turning, the general uneasiness, and the oh-so-horrid flashbacks.  Guilt sucks, but it's also a meaningful opportunity to start making real changes in your life.  If you don't like the way you treated someone, the gift is that you don't ever have to do it, again.  People don't often realize that the point of all this therapy and self-improvement is to actually change!  It never ceases to amaze me how people work on changing a golf-swing but not on their attitudes and interactions with people!  People believe in their ability to change the physical, but not the mental, and that's where I remind you that there is always room to grow.  You may never agree with your former self based on past decisions, but remember that we've all made some doozies.  Many of us are even mortified at who we used to be.  The decision to learn from it, however, means that all those cringes and stomach rumbles actually had some use.  


Denise Limongello, LMSW