Guilt can be appropriate and inappropriate. Generally speaking, appropriate guilt advances our personal power and inappropriate guild doesn’t, and here is why…
A healthy regret about a course of action that we took, expands our awareness and allows us to adjust our behavior—so that it better aligns with our values and goals.
In this case the process of reflecting on our guilt is a building block towards personal growth and success, through constant re-evaluating of our mindset, coping, and behavior… Thomas Edison’s responses towards failure come to mind as inspirational examples of learning from our mistakes:
"I have not failed. I've just found 10, 000 ways that won't work"
"Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do, doesn't mean it's useless"
"Discontent is the first necessity of progress"
However, guilt can also be inappropriate.
Inappropriate guilt can be a flag for our handing over too much of our personal power; for example when we find ourselves excessively apologizing—either to appease someone or as a result of accepting blame for not living up to someone else's expectations (even if they themselves don’t expect it of us…)
Guilt can also reflect taking on board unexamined external “should” messages, such as ones we may have learned when endeavoring to earn others’ or social approval...
These unexamined “should” messages can be like tapes that play over and again in our mind; for as long as we don’t pause to examine how we relate to them…
The first step in moving forward in our dealings with guilt is to clarify whether it is appropriate or not. Is our guilt pointing to a genuine, temporary, specific regret? Or is it inappropriate and reflective of other people’s expectations?
The second step is to take back our power and take charge of our how we relate to guilt, through taking time to journal and examine whatever should messages play in our head...
Decide on whether whatever comes up for you following an “I should” is a right fit for your values and circumstances; and if it isn’t, take action to respond to what you’ve written, with words and messages that include encouragement, support, and self care—responding from a place of control and self-worth…
Language matters. Consider replacing “I should’s” with “I chose to’s” , “I want to’s”, which feel more empowering and are a reminder that the only person who is ultimately in control of your choices, mindset, and what messages you take on board, is YOU!