How to Take Responsibility Without Guilt
Let’s admit the starting point; our culture seems to reinforce the need for guilt in order to take responsibility for any error or mistake. It’s curious that we seem to need the submission of the other person in order to believe their sincerity. “You’re wrong and stew in it” is the message we silently we get when dealing with some people. Now it’s easy to bring out the blame brush, come together in an “it’s all their fault” rally cry and point the finger everywhere except ourselves: this isn’t the intention of this piece. I just think it’s important to identify and acknowledge what’s at play.
If you’re reading this I’m going to assume that you’re similar to me, and have struggled with chronic guilt, whether conscious or subconscious, in your life. That doesn’t mean you’re depressed or generally apathetic about life, I’m certainly not, but when it comes to an altercation, incident or a situation where you’re called to take responsibility it tends to trigger a self-deprecating pattern of guilt, self-blame, and internal meanness.
Taking responsibility is incredibly simple and doesn’t have to feel arduous and crippling. Remember:
- You making a mistake does not invalidate your worth or innate value as a person.
- You making a mistake does not indenture you to a life of subjugation and servitude and “being made wrong”
- You making a mistake was one of a series of calculated actions or risks that we make all day long; we roll the dice every time we do a lane change or show up for work
- You making a mistake or admitting you made mistake, doesn’t make you weak.
Guilt demands punishment either internally or externally. Your subconscious mind will make sure someone suffers for your feelings of guilt and it doesn’t care who. “Guilt is always associated with a feeling of wrongness and potential punishment, either real or in fantasy. If punishment is not forthcoming in the external world, it expresses itself as self-punishment on an emotional level.” Dr. David Hawkins, Letting Go
I’m going to repeat it – guilt demands some form of punishment. It could be berating yourself endlessly with negative thoughts, or making unconscious decisions that will cut off opportunities in life; reacting in anger and being irritable with everyone you come in contact with, or some cocktail of all the above.
Dissolving the guilt reaction
- 1. Breathe and Acknowledge – FEEL your feelings that are coming up without judgment or fear or trying to push them aside, just let it come up. It’s just a feeling. IT’S JUST A FEELING. Guilt doesn’t own, control, dictate, dehumanize, restrict, restrain, or fuck you up any more than you allow it to.Your ability to breathe in these moments will serve you incredibly here. Breathe deep, so your stomach expands. This will give your consciousness a chance to let the feelings move through you. Keep breathing.
When guilt comes up for me it’s like the world starts getting tighter, and…greyer. I don’t know how else to explain it. Sometimes, and I’ve only been able to observe this when not in that state, I can feel my vitality slip and the only thing I want to do is hide or avoid the person or situation that I view as being the cause.
- Change your state. This tip I got from one of Tony Robbins audio programs. If the guilt is severe, or crippling and you’ve been spent a solid 30 seconds to 2 minutes of just breathing and the world is only getting greyer, this is the next move. Get up immediately and Start dancing or singing to your favourite tunes, go for a walk, grab some tea, do some pushups on the spot, I’ve done all of these to simply interrupt the neurological pattern that is trying to emotionally hog tie me into thoughts or a state of guilt. I’m not going to get into the physiological nuances at play on this piece, but the point is, interrupting what you’re doing at the time when the feeling is coming up is a great way to keep from “going down the rabbit hole” as some of my group has labeled it.
- Surrender – I’ll ask myself a series of questions: Could I let this feeling of guilt go? Would I if I could? When? And just repeat those questions. Also, I’ve found myself wanting control when I’m in that state or feeling of guilt which tends to anchor it. So I identify that as a wanting of control of that feeling – from there I ask myself “Can I let this feeling go? Repeat, until it dissipates. This I picked up as a kind of hybrid approach from The Sedona Method (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP-IqQ4vYIE) and Letting Go by Dr. David Hawkins. I’m not endorsed by either of these but currently this method I’ve found as the most effective.
Rinse & Repeat
I highly recommend the resources I’ve listed above as they have changed my life and continue to do so. I haven’t mastered these techniques and I won’t pretend for an instant that guilt has 0 place in my life. But each day, with each occurrence, as I move through the circumstances I get less and less guilt on me and witnessing the results of that inspire me. Once you’ve tried the above and experience the growth you’ll get what I’m saying. Guilt doesn’t add to your life. Guilt doesn’t inspire you to be more a thoughtful or generous person or put you above making mistakes in the future. In my experience, the opposite has been true. When in a situation where I am “guilty” I immediately want to hide. There’s an instinct to say or do anything that will get the conversation over so I can hide my own rock for a while, let alone genuinely empathizing with the person which would create a safe space for creativity and ideas to come up that could rectify the circumstance wholly and efficiently. I just want the situation/interaction to be over as quickly possible, which also rarely happens because the guilt has me so afraid of facing the circumstance that the problem persists longer than it needs to.
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: Taking responsibility is incredibly simple. You can even leave a tough situation with a real sense of power. These are the hallmarks of what an altercation looks like once you’ve taken responsibility without the dragging guilt
- You acknowledged or owned your part of the situation (We’re not blaming or pointing fingers, nor are we taking responsibility for things we did not do or could not control “I believe…”At the time” “With the information at the moment I…” Are all prompts or signs the acknowledgement without guilt).
- You listen and empathize without defending (you can provide context when appropriate or if needed, but you don’t feel the knife at your throat)
- You’re sincere in your apology
- You brainstorm and propose ways that might be supportive or correct the situation
- You have a sense of contentment even joy or inspiration when finished.