Although our challenges and failures can help us grow, they can also destroy us.
When she is at work, Martha blames herself for not being with her children. At home, Felicity is ashamed that she didn’t put the burner on for the stew. Jeanne has a bad conscience for not going to see her parents more often. As for Anne, she looks for what she may have done wrong in the education of her daughter who, at 28, is still struggling to find her way. Few mothers escape guilt. This feeling is not bad in itself but, if it takes up too much space, it poisons life. “Guilt is an uncomfortable, even painful, emotional state that manifests itself when we have the impression of not having acted correctly with respect to social or moral norms, or perhaps even our own values,” writes psychotherapist Sarah Famery. Therefore, it can be a “sign of good mental health,” assures Father Joël Pralong, a positive sign. “It is a structuring emotion that guarantees our awareness of good and evil, which drives us to keep on the right path.” Here are seven keys to free yourself from guilt.
1. Identifying guilt
Guilt is an alarm that warns us when we have gone too far. But then, why can it corrode and torment us for years? Because there is good guilt and bad guilt. According to psychologist Daniel Desbois, “true guilt knows that I have hurt the heart of my neighbor, of God, and myself. It affects the way we act. The false one affects my being, the image I have of myself. That happens, for example, when we feel useless, incapable.” So we must distinguish: Is our guilt the consequence of an act that was actually performed or was it the echo of an insistent and faulty inner judgment that is rooted, perhaps, in our childhood?
2. Seeking help
If we are eaten up by guilt that sabotages our self-esteem, Father Joël Pralong advises us to “seek company. A psychologist will look to the past to find what is blocked. A priest can help us open up to a more transcendent sense of our suffering. He will help us to hold on to Jesus, to stop feeling totally alone.” Maline, a grandmother, has long blamed herself for her baby’s death: “The medical staff explained to me that there had been an acute fetal disorder. I considered myself responsible for it. I said to myself, ‘How is it possible that I, who was made to give life, could have given death?’ I was not released until a psychologist told me, ‘You did everything that needed to be done for your child.’”
3. Saying things
According to Apolline Delplanque, an educator at the IPEF, the French Institute for Education in the Family, “putting feelings into words is liberating. You have to say things, to yourself or to others, if you have hurt them.” Talking about it to a friend, to a husband, to an experienced person, can help to discern whether our guilt is founded or not. When she is helping a woman to think things through, Axelle Trillard, a life coach, asks, “You have the feeling of having done something wrong. What concrete action do you reproach yourself for? Because a feeling of guilt often comes from a disproportion between what actually happened versus the echo it has in us.”
4. Finding the right attitude
As soon as we have identified what really happened, we have to get out of our guilt mode. “To feel guilty is to be our own judge, to inflict our own punishment. This prevents us from having a proper attitude and doing the actions that are appropriate, restorative and fair,” says Albane, a school nurse and mother. In order to adopt a better behavioral pattern, Sarah Famery advises us “to see what can be fixed and what we can do better next time; to focus on solving the problem and not on the emotional consequences.” Axelle Trillard, also a mother of six, remembers not being able to say good night to her children for several years because she was so exhausted. By gaining a proper perspective, she has found the solution: “For example, I could have gone to see a different child every night. Turning the ‘nothing’ into a ‘little thing’ would have relieved me.”
5. Accepting our limits
Through guilt, the fact that we do not correspond with the image we have of ourselves or that we want to give to others can come into play. “We often want to do things perfectly,” says Apolline Delplanque. “And we feel useless because we don’t succeed. The search for perfection is often a a question of pride. Accepting our limits, our weak points, helps to clear the air. We can also tell ourselves positive things: “No, you are not an idiot. Yes, God loves you, whatever you do! Priest Joël Pralong was cured of a morbid feeling of guilt: “The question I asked myself was ‘Can you accept being loved? The drama is that we look too much at ourselves and not enough at the Good Lord.
6. Asking for forgiveness
“Guilt is good, because it tells me: ‘Change! Go and ask for forgiveness! It is pride that holds us back, because man is willing to recognize himself as a sinner,” says Daniel Desbois. Anne has long blamed herself for several “mistakes” in her children’s education: “One day, I went out for a walk with my daughter and got it off my chest. She listened to me without saying anything. Then I apologized to her.” Asking the Lord’s forgiveness helps you to stop judging yourself. For Axelle Trillard, “nothing works better to burn off the guilt and put in its place the joy of God. This sacrament affects the root of our being, it irrigates our psychology.” It also remains to forgive oneself. A difficult task, but “if I do not forgive myself, it is as if I am refusing God’s forgiveness,” warns Daniel Desbois.
7. Look ahead
Guilt is a trap when it blocks us in the past and focuses us on ourselves. Once forgiveness is given and received, “we must leave the past where it is and look ahead,” explains Father Joël Pralong. “You are not a slave to guilt, to a law that condemns you, to a superego that plunges you into darkness. You are no longer alone, you can stand on your own two feet with hope.”
Bénédicte de Saint-Germain