Understanding and Dealing with Guilt. Part 1: A Comprehensive Overview

This is my first post of 2021 and, in the spirit of getting off to a new start and moving beyond your past, I want to talk about one of the feelings that you might experience after you’ve done something that turns out bad and yields an unwanted result.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series of posts.

Part 1 will give you an overview of the emotions which might be elicited (NOT caused!)  by some action you took in the past and will introduce you to the Basic Relationship Rule.

Part 2 will discuss the actual steps you need to take to deal with, dissolve your guilt and move on.

Part 1

Actions taken and the feelings these actions might elicit.

If you feel guilty, you are focusing on the “bad” thing that you did.

If you shame, you are focusing on yourself as a horrible person for having done it.

If you feel regret, you are wishing that you had not done it.

If you are angry, you view the results as representing some sort of threat to your expectations, your goals, your values, and so forth.

You can feel any, all, or none of these feelings following what you did.

Past articles

The last article in which I discussed guilt and shame was posted in September 2017. I discussed regret in July 2016. You can view these posts by going to the Archives to the right of this page and clicking on the specific month of the post you want to read.

The Index Tab: A reminder.

By the way, you can access all of my posts by clicking on the Index tab in the upper right hand corner of this page and opening up the PDF.  To make your access easier, I have listed all of my posts by category, title and date.

The Emotion of Guilt

In this post, I will revisit the emotion of guilt and the message it conveys, discuss how to strategically deploy this emotion, and talk about how you can get rid of the feeling by applying the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) to yourself and deploying I.W.B.N.I’s once you have validated and strategically deployed the emotion.

Guilt is a powerful emotion the message of which is “I did something wrong.”

Guilt is a backward oriented feeling.  Its focus is on the past.

In other words, you do not feel guilty when you are engaged in the action, you later feel guilty about.

Rather, you feel guilty when you reflect back on what you did in light of the consequences that resulted from the action you took.

The downside of guilt is that, if not handled appropriately, it can weigh on you, negatively impact your effectiveness in life by eliciting feelings of worthlessness (shame or depression), and impact your relationships with others.

It is this downside that probably leads some writers to advocate that you get rid of, or eliminate, guilt.

Unless you are talking about guilt that is persistent, intrusive and not connected to a specific set of actions, I do not agree that you should eliminate the feeling.  This approach to guilt implies that there may be something wrong with the emotion, per se.

I maintain that ALL emotions are adaptive and need to be viewed as tools that inform us about situations which require our attention.  This is the upside of an emotion.

Using this emotion as a tool, the upside of guilt is that it alerts you to an action you took which needs to be examined, perhaps corrected and learned from. This alert is the message of guilt.

Put another way, you strategically deploy your guilt as  a tool when you validate it, use its  power as a motivator to critically revisit your actions and examine the circumstances that existed at the time, the decisions you made, and the actions you took from the perspective of what you did, the results you experienced and what you intended to happen.  Once you do this, you can use the power of the emotion as a motivator to “make it right” and resolve to learn from your mistakes and move forward.

So, how do you resolve and dissolve  guilt once you have strategically deployed it as discussed above?

The process of resolving guilt involves applying the principles of the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) to yourself.

The BRR states: Everyone, in every situation, does the best they can given their Model of the World (as it applies to the situation in which they find themselves) and their Skill Sets.

Usually applied to others..

Typically, the BRR is used to understand the behavior of another person with the goal of developing, maintaining, or correcting the relationship you have with that person.

Equally as valid when applied to you…

As it applies to you and the behavior about which you are feeling guilty, the BRR tells you that the “offensive” behavior was the BEST you could do, in the situation, given how you viewed that situation (your MODEL) and the SKILL SETS (your interpersonal abilities) you had, at the time, for dealing with what was happening between you and those you interacted with.

Here are the steps to deal with guilt.

  1. Assess the situation.
  2. Accept responsibility for your actions.
  3. Make it right with the other person (if possible and appropriate).
  4. Understand your actions.
  5. Forgive yourself.
  6. Let the guilt dissolve.

I’ll discuss the specific steps in detail in the next post.