I made the decision today that I’m letting go of guilt. It’s a funny thing – it never occurred to me before that I could.
I don’t remember where my guilt came from or why my burden of it seems to be unusually heavy. It could be the curse of the oldest child, perhaps, or tied to low self esteem. Or I could be a raging egomaniac, and my guilt stems from my unreasonable belief that I’m responsible for everything, because–well, just because. (If I were more technologically inclined, I’d insert a gif from Buffy the Vampire Slayer here, the one where a psychology major tells her she’s got an inferiority complex about her superiority complex.)
Who knows why some messages resonate with our younger selves, but the message of ‘take responsibility for your mistakes’ was clearly one that had me from hello. The problem was that I see my mistakes everywhere. No matter what the situation, I look first for the things I could have done differently to improve the outcome. I have a huge capacity to forgive and explain away the mistakes of others, but have found my own more stubbornly transgressive. (Spellcheck says that’s not a word, but I’m leaving it.)
A friend was talking about his recent significant weight loss, saying that what made the difference was that he finally just made the decision to do it. If only it was so easy, we all think when someone says that. Maybe it is.
I like to say that regret is wasted emotion, because of course we can’t change the past, but never saw that guilt is equally useless for the most part. If we have hurt someone, remorse can help us accept our fault and make amends where possible, but guilt is different to me. It’s emotional cutting, making oneself pay for sins over and over without redemption. All it really does is make me more likely to sin again.
I’m not going to stop taking responsibility and start assigning blame instead; I’m resolving to do something productive where I can, and keep looking forward when I can’t. I guess I thought making myself feel bad was the price of messing up. If no one else would make me pay, I’d do it to myself. But it’s not just wasted emotion, it’s counterproductive. It makes me less likely to do any good for anyone.
So today I’m shedding some weight, and in the end it was as easy as a decision to do it.