Between guilt and shame, supposedly, guilt is the better emotion. Guilt gets us to admit our mistakes and try to make up for them. Shame, however, only makes us want to hide. We keep to ourselves, worry about being found out, and when the inevitable happens, we pray we won’t be judged, for it’d only scar us more.
Clearly, guilt is the better option. Guilt gets you somewhere, if not always immediately. But what about feeling guilty for who you are, what you want out of life, and how you want to feel? Those aren’t mistakes. They just are. You are. When you start feeling guilty about things that don’t need justification, you’ll walk down a slippery slope.
In many court cases, the innocent complain about a lack of justice for the guilty. When we apologize for whatever we’ve learned about ourselves, we flip this upside down: Since we feel guilty, we’ll start complaining. “Why can’t I travel less? Why do I have to wake up so early? Why won’t my family support my exercise habit? Why won’t people respect my boundaries?” Well, it might be because you’re only complaining! If your schedule includes regular travel, but you want to fly less, work to change your schedule. Did you tell your family you need support for your workout routine? If you want to have boundaries, you need to establish them.
The problem lies not in a lack of options; it lies in you not accepting who you are. You’ve already done the hard bit! You’ve identified what you need. Instead of second-guessing yourself, find a way to see it through. It is a tough job, this separating what’s non-negotiable from what’s merely wishful thinking. Don’t let the results be in vain. Our gut is strong. It can be an incredible ally. Yes, every now and then, it leads us astray, but most of the instances when it fails us are actually just us doubting our inner compass. Guilty. “Why am I this way? Why can’t I want something different?” It is a lack of acceptance rather than of insight, and it leads to the detrimental guilty-and-complaining cycle.
When you’ve screwed up, please, do feel guilty by all means. Fess up to your mistakes. Try to do better. Self-awareness, however, is wonderful. You are who you are. The ways of the world are mysterious, and we’ll rarely get an explanation for why each part was put in its place. That doesn’t make any part meaningless. They’re all there for a reason. Trust in the reason, and help the parts work together.
Try this for a day: Don’t feel guilty, and don’t complain. See how that combination works wonders. Suddenly, you can’t judge yourself, and, therefore, you also can’t wallow in self-pity. What is this new aspect of yourself you have discovered? Fascinating! How can you integrate it into your life? Can you pour it in slowly? Or will it require some hard decisions? Either way, get on with it. Stay busy living instead of complaining about the life you’re not creating. May neither guilt nor shame get in your way.