Dealing with Guilt Productively

Guilt goes away only when one makes the choice to let it go. Guilt, if left unchecked, can grow to crippling proportions. It is an unnecessary feeling and actually, like everything else in life, is a choice. This is not to say that you should go around hurting people then ignoring those actions.

No, this program (the St. Jude Program®) advocates a process that begins with identifying the root cause of your problems through the autobiographical process. Guilt and pain are natural results.

To promote self created positive lifestyle change, you must commit to never repeating the offending behavior that caused you to feel guilty. Make a promise to yourself, and only to yourself, to change your offending behavior in the present and future. This must be a solid pact with you, and you alone. Leave no gray area that gives you a way out of, or a way around, your commitment to change. You must be committed to change your attitude and actions for this method to work.

Even when you have committed to this new life you may still feel guilt because the majority of offensive behaviors and choices were your fault. In addition, we are now saying that you should not try to absolve your guilt by saying “I’m sorry” to those whom you may have hurt regardless of how sincere you might be. Instead, and as a maturing adult, you must be willing to carry the burden of this guilt on your shoulders temporarily.

Learning to deal with guilt productively is a natural human process. Those who have an immature outlook, used guilt for self-pity and as an excuse to fail. People who immerse themselves in self-pity over their past misbehaviors find it easy to regress. It goes something like this: “Damn, I feel so bad about that! Screw it; I’m going to go get high.” This is a very convenient way to remain tied to instant gratification and avoid the real issue of changing the behaviors that created the guilt.

Most therapy, especially therapy conducted by addiction professionals, suggests that if you feel guilt you will automatically drink and drug abusively. This is nonsense, unless of course, you want to make it become true. Guilt is normal, and depending on what you do with it, it can be a catalyst for productive change, or if left to fester, it can lead a person to become consumed by self-pity.

So here you are, guilty about a wretched past, and so far, no way to get rid of it. You cannot just fess up to those you hurt and go on your merry way. On the other hand, you cannot let it irritate and drag you down, emotionally. Between these two options there seems to be no solution. But there is….

We mentioned that the first phase of taking responsibility for our past indiscretions and getting over guilt is to commit to never repeat the behaviors. If you are unable to commit absolutely to not repeating the offending behavior, then you have made the decision not to change the behavior. You have identified the offending behavior and decided that it is acceptable to you, that, if the same set of circumstances were present today, you would handle it exactly the same way. This means you are also prepared to accept the same outcome and the resulting consequences. As with everything, this is up to you.

However, if you make the decision not to repeat your past negative behavior, we can show you how to replace those habits with those that are in line with the five natural axioms. This process of replacement and the five axioms mentioned are discussed in future articles and are covered in detail in the St. Jude Program offered at the St. Jude Retreats.

Next, if you are able to deal with guilt productively, it is time to make yourself available and be willing to humbly apologize on the other party’s terms. This is not to be confused with making amends as some 12 step programs advocate, which is simply a way of exonerating oneself at the expense of the person or persons we hurt. No this is waiting for people to witness your changes choices and behaviors, your increased maturity level if you will, and then asking to discuss the situation. When we allow people around us the courtesy to see our new lifestyle on their terms, relationships hurt in the past, can and do reconcile themselves. THIS is how you allow the guilt of the past to stay in the past.