A coaching client was discussing her need to discover who she really is. Discovery Coaching is about exactly that – who we are, why we became who we are, what elements of our history has had major impact on how we look at ourselves and each other and how we can eliminate the ‘negative’ aspects of the ‘baggage’ to become our Authentic Self. The result is full self-acceptance; and it’s a truly powerful thing. It is the step often reached before the discovery of our ‘purpose’ here on earth.
To some it’s hocus-pocus – to others it’s nearly spiritual; for most it’s somewhere in between, but it is always life-altering. One of the continual elements that usually impede a person’s growth toward their Authentic Self is Guilt. The impact that we often allow the state of Guilt to have upon us is tremendous and sometimes all-encompassing. Everyone has felt it, some more than others – but it’s an element of life that we weren’t born with – it was taught to us, often in an attempt to alter our behavior as growing children. It is a tool used throughout adulthood by many to alter the behavior of other adults. But here’s the thing…
Guilt wastes lives and people.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a massively important emotion or state, and one we should all be able to experience. In fact, the inability to experience real guilt is an indicator of many severe psychological conditions, so it’s important to be able to experience guilt. But we should never reside within the state of guilt. Furthermore, we need to be able to determine when guilt is applied to our benefit and when to our detriment. Better stated – we must learn to understand and control guilt and not be controlled by it.
This may seem simplistic and basic but it’s not. I was speaking with this personal coaching client and she was stating that her husband had not been keeping his word or promises of their marital vows. She felt guilty for thinking of leaving her husband and was concerned about breaking up the family and the damage that would be done to the children. She also spoke of her vows to God; her promise – her covenant.
We all need to realize something very important – to fully receive a fulfilling and purpose-filled life, we must seek peace, inner and outer. IF we are spending all of our emotions and sanity in a drama-filled relationship AND we have done all we feel we should do to make things better – what are we to do?
Well, while it does take two to tango – it really does not take two to ruin a relationship; it merely takes two to make it work. Sure, one could accept the other more and forgive indiscretions or deceits, etc. But the question is, should they? Their answer is the correct answer. If they don’t feel they should stay, they shouldn’t – if they do, they should. It’s really that simple because if the person choosing to stay in the dysfunctional relationship is not committed to their partner and to making the relationship work, it just won’t work. Whether it’s healthy for them to stay is a separate conversation.
But we’re talking about guilt; guilt of staying or guilt of leaving.
Guilt often results from broken promises, oaths, obligations and even covenants. We currently see a tremendous amount resulting from the break-up of marriages, families and the perceived damage done to the children of such families. But before going into all of that – let’s explore what GUILT really is.
Merriam-Webster defines guilt as: feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy. So let’s go with that definition – but isn’t there a simpler explanation?
In my workshop and seminar content that covers the topic, I state simply that guilt is: The emotional state of conflict between what we WANT to do versus what we feel we SHOULD do.
Now, it important to realize whether the ‘should’ in the conflict, is ours or whether it is applied by others. In other words, is the conflict between what we want to do and what we think we ‘should’ do OR is it based on what we think someone else would think we ‘should’ do. This point is hugely important because as adults we must live in accordance with our internal code of honor and decency. We must not live based on the ‘shoulds’ of others when it conflicts with our own internal determination of right and wrong.
What I am stating is not a method by which a thoughtless individual can rationalize performing unkind deeds – that would be solely listening to the internal ‘wants’; I am stating that we need to only listen to our internal ‘shoulds’, not the ‘shoulds’ of others.
Merriam-Webster defines a covenant as: a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action.
Why is this important? Because whether it is promises to our children, promises to each other or even the covenant of marriage, it’s important to realize and remember something very important; the promise or covenant is made as a contract or agreement between two people, certainly these promises are often proclaimed to God or with God as the witness, but the agreement itself is between two people. And when one of the two people break the covenant, it no longer exists. Though the intentions were true and honest at the beginning of the contract, the breaking of the contract by one frees the other from the bindings of the same contract, if desired.
It’s not as emotional of a subject but contract law is no different – if person A will do ‘this’ then person B agrees to do ‘that’. At no time do legal contracts require the abiding party to maintain the terms of the contract after the non-abiding party breaks the terms of the contract.
Please note, I’m not promoting divorce, marriage or any of these types of sacraments nor am I encouraging people to break contracts! I am however, trying to empower people to realize that guilt should never be something that others are successful in applying toward you.
To quote Keith Ablow, M.D. in the book he co-wrote, 7 wonders that will change your life: “Covenants are not contracts that include your spiritual destruction. God would never ask that of you nor want that for you.” And, “…don’t deny reality if what you thought was a lifelong obligation degenerates into a contract that includes your spiritual destruction. That’s the time to remind yourself that sometimes you have to risk the life you’re currently living to instead live the one that God needs you to.”
Whether you are a spiritual person or not, just realize this: Yours is the only life you get to live, do not allow others who have their own, to attempt to live yours for you. Only you know your pain, your missions, your purpose, your dreams – live yours as though it’s the only one in the world, because it is.
Therefore, let Guilt serve you as your barometer of right and wrong; never let it control you by allowing others to place it upon you. Personally, I hope your’s and everyone’s barometer has something to do with the Golden Rule, you know the one – “Do unto others…”
Guilt placed upon you by others, intentionally or not, is like an oxen’s yoke, not only will the weight of it prevent you from getting where you want to go but you’ll have to watch the rest of the world pass you by on the journey. – David Jones, Guilt Seminar content