A loved one, (or not so loved one) dies and you may have pangs of guilt, recognizing, too late, that there are things you wish you would have said, or done, or not said, or not done.
You are overwhelmed with an emotional (and visceral) response that feels as if it is, now, a permanent burden to carry. ‘How could I?!’ ‘How could I not?!’
What you have come to feel emotional, and think conditionally, is most often an inappropriate attachment that, in fact, can’t be resolved through your rational, your reasoning, your justifications because it doesn’t fit… it’s the wrong lens.
AMENDS: are apologies (sorry) for anything you did or did not do that might have hurt someone else, reflective of either intentional malice or wanton neglect. A feeling of guilt that may motivate your amends is only appropriate as reflective of either of these two constructs. Any other attachment to feelings of guilt would be an inappropriate and misaligned attachment! Otherwise, what you are experiencing, feeling, is probably regret.
You may owe an amend for something you actually did (“I’m sorry I took money from your purse”) or something you did not do (“I’m sorry I didn’t visit you in the hospital”). You may associate this feeling with a sense of unresolved guilt. This is the appropriate psychological fit only if you were either intentionally malicious (sarcastic, sardonic, dismissive, invalidating, demeaning, dishonest, etc.) in this case stealing, or wantonly (intentionally) neglectful (don’t care enough to care, ‘too busy’, self-absorbed) in this case not visiting.
Unintentional neglect, not genuinely realizing or understanding the severity of a circumstance, does not fit an attachment to guilt.
How do you resolve your guilt, move through and beyond it to renewed health and wholeness?
You do this through your intention, of the most challenging of all human emotional constructs:
Self-forgiveness. In this context, forgiveness is not primarily about ‘other’. It is about self. In taking responsibility for your sense of sorry, the amend you make is in the forgiveness of yourself. Authentic and transformative self-forgiveness holds an element of accountability, to modify your attitudes, motives, and behaviour. We must forgive ourselves.
It is not the place of the offended to appease you. It is your work to recognize your choice, embrace any guilt that may be appropriate, and assume your self-absolution; you deeply and profoundly forgive, yourself, and change your behaviour.
Outside of either intentional malice or wanton neglect what you are experiencing is regret.
What regret is not… a silly sentiment of ‘who dies with the most toys has no regret’. That is not accurate and is unhelpful.
Regret is, the deep sadness or disappointment attached to an unrealized hope, dream or expectation, or an unknowing.
Regret is almost always attached to your best intentions. You make decisions based on what you know, the resources and information before you, with your best intention for a positive and affirming outcome. When things don’t work out the way that you intended you can acknowledge your deep disappointment and sadness that they didn’t, reclaim your best intention, and let the hurt of an unrealized expectation go.
Your regret may be attached to your present recognition of a previous unknowing or unawareness of a situation or circumstance that would ultimately present. It is critical to reframe an inappropriate guilt attachment of an unknowing to an appropriate sense of regret, that you did not know or were unaware of a circumstance beyond your ability to control or attend to (she died when I went down to the hospital cafeteria for a bite, after sitting at her bedside for the past 11 hours). Clarity of this recognition and reframe also allows us to acknowledge our deep disappointment and sadness, and let the hurt of the helpless feeling of not knowing or being aware of, go.
Regret is not guilt light, a lesser form of guilt. It is a different psychological construct. We can feel the depth of our regret as deeply and profoundly as any guilt feeling. The question to resolve and make clear is not how deeply we feel, but, rather, what is the appropriate psychological attachment to help us move through and beyond our thoughts feelings to healing.
A Therapist rule… be gracious and gentle with yourself. Be well.
Written by: Tim Boulton – Walking With You Counselling