Don’t ever let anyone talk you out of feeling guilty

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Don’t ever let anyone talk you out of feeling guilty about something you’ve done.

Even if what you did was not wrong, even if it was justified and every court in the land would agree; if you feel guilty, then OK, go ahead and accept it.

Guilt is a guide. You can’t travel in a foreign country, and expect not to get lost, without a guide of some sort; be it a live human, or a guidebook, or signs by the side of the road. Guilt is your guide towards self improvement, an usher that shows the way to reconciliation.

Nevertheless, you don’t travel just so you can meet a guide, stay with a guide, and look at nothing but the guide. No, you’re interested in what the guide shows you. So, when I say that guilt is a guide, I don’t mean you have to stay with guilt. I mean, look at what guilt is showing you. It’s showing you that you could have done something differently.

Once you have written your statement of responsibility, re-written it to take out the buts, recalled promises you might have broken, imagined the effect of your actions, and, the whole time, successfully beat off any of the six varieties of denial, you still have one more thing to do: identify what you could have done differently. There is always something.

Once you get started on identifying what you could have done differently, you might find the possibilities are endless. Within the life of any problem are multiple turning points in which a decision is made.

Take the guy who beat his daughter, for example. When he became so enraged that he thought it was a good idea to punch her in the face, he might have turned aside and counted to ten. But, even if he couldn’t; even if he got so overcome by rage that he felt he had no choice in the matter; even then, I’m sure it was not the first time anger appeared. He probably had dozens of incidents before that could have served as a warning, had he heeded them. Maybe those were the times he could have turned away and gotten help; or, at least, learned from his mistakes.

Identifying what you could have done differently helps you get your power back. It’s an acknowledgment that you matter and the things you do makes a difference. It demonstrates that you have choices.

If a man broke into your house, held a gun on your wife, swiped your silverware, and was getting ready to kidnap your children; then maybe you feel justified that you took his gun away and shot him. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason to be reading about reconciliation. But, if you do feel guilty for defending your family this way, ask yourself, what could you have done differently? Maybe you could have installed that security system so none of this would’ve happened.

There’s a special type of guilt called survivors’ guilt. That’s when you feel guilty that you survived. Accident survivors get it, witnesses of violence get it, combat veterans get it in spades, even people who have been victimized get it when they think about how much worse it could have been. People have a hard time understanding survivors’ guilt.

Well-meaning people might try to talk you out of feeling guilty if you have survivors’ guilt. They’ll say it wasn’t your fault, you had no choice, anyone would have done the same thing. They’ll counsel you to not get caught up in the what-ifs. They’ll warn you against 20–20 hindsight. They’ll call you a Monday morning quarterback. Resist them and look at what guilt is trying to show you. It’s trying to show that you’re not just a victim. The things you do, even the little things, have impact.