Caregiving often leads to one of the most destructive of caregiver emotions: GUILT.
Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. Romans 3:24 (NLT)
Guilt ranks at the top of the list as one of the most self-destructive emotions a human being can experience. One myth about guilt is that we need it to prod ourselves into self-improvement. Many of us believe that without feeling guilty and beating ourselves up we will just continue to repeat the same stupid behavior over and over. Just the opposite is true. Guilt causes us to repeat self-destructive behaviors. Remorse, regret, and even shame on the other hand lead us in a forward moving direction, prompting us to self-forgiveness and self-correction.
Merriam-Webster OnLine defines guilt as: " feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : SELF-REPROACH."
We are not talking about what others may judge us to be, we are talking about how we judge ourselves. It may be true that if we commit an offense, in the eyes of the law or other people we can be judged as guilty. But what is most important, and what Christ tried to bring home to us over and over, is that we can be forgiven and pronounced "not-guilty" in the eyes of God and therefore in our own minds.
Guilt comes from thinking in terms of "should" words. Examples include " I should or shouldn't have," " I have too," "I ought too," " I must." Language in our thoughts that leads us to believe we have broken some kind of real or imagined inviolate rule will cause us to feel the self-destructive emotion of guilt. Guilty feelings can be best recognized by the impulse to punish oneself. Self punishment is not self correction and is never healthy. However, if we accept divine forgiveness and forgive ourselves, we tend to begin a process of making amends, learning from our mistakes, and moving on with our lives.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS NOT FOR CHILDREN OR IRRESPONSIBLE ADULTS---
You Do Not Have to Follow the Rules!
We are always free to make our own decisions, take our own risks. But you must also be fully willing to accept the consequences of your actions without blame or excuse! This puts a lot of responsibility on you as an individual because you will always be responsible for you behavior. If you think to yourself "I don't have to feel guilty for running red lights because Pat said there are no rules," you also have to accept the responsibility for the possible traffic fines or the responsibility for possibly killing someone in an accident. I choose to stop at red lights (almost all the time) because I do not like the consequences that can come as a result of running the light.
More practically, guilt usually comes from more subtle kinds of rules: "I should be nice to everybody" or "I cannot make any mistakes." Violating these internal kinds of rules we inherit from our past lead us to feel guilty when we inevitably break them.
Christ died so that we could be free to take risks and make mistakes! Even in the time of Jesus, the righteous had it wrong. The Pharisees had established so many rules that no one could follow them all. Christ saw this and became a blatant rule breaker in order to do the will of God. There is no way you can follow all the rules all the time. You are human and you will make mistakes. If you believe you have to live by all the rules to be a good person you will live a life filled with guilt. You will be condemning yourself as a bad person. On the other hand, painful as they are, the emotions of regret and remorse prompt us to better ourselves. We acknowledge our mistakes and self-correct. The difference between guilt and remorse are the same as the difference between all healthy and unhealthy emotions: Guilt keeps you stuck in the self-destructive behavior of self-punishment; remorse gets you moving forward into self-correcting behavior
"You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world. So why do you keep on following rules of the world, such as, "Don't handle, don't eat, don't touch."
Col: 2:20-23 (MSG)
How much healthier it is to view mistakes as learning experiences. Practice self- forgiveness, and use the painful experience as a life lesson that will empower you in the future. You can still feel regret or remorse for your choice and not feel guilty. These are still unpleasant emotions but they are healthy. Regret and remorse don't stop you from learning and growing from an experience. Guilt keeps you stuck in a cycle of worry and self-punishment.
So how do you break free from the guilt of the past? I emphasize the importance of writing. Keeping a logbook of your daily activities. In this log book you want to record the times during the day when you were feeling guilty. Include the who, what where and when. The move on to record what you were feeling, and then, most importantly, try to uncover what hidden thoughts or beliefs may have lead you to feel that way. Most likely you will uncover a thought with some kind of "should" language in it: "I should have been a better father" (or mother, or sibling, or spouse). "I should have worked harder in school." "I shouldn't have had that second helping of ice cream.".....
Once you uncover the rule you have broken, you can change the language to be more forgiving and educational: "I wish I had done a better job raising my kids, but recognizing those mistakes has made me a much better person because of the lessons I have learned. I guess I had to make those mistakes to become the better man I am now." I can see that my habit of procrastination cost me good grades in school. I am going to work on that and do everything I can to break that bad habit. I am going to begin by keeping a daily log and recording all those times I feel like putting off important tasks. Then I can examine those situations, and make plans for dealing with them in stringer and more productive ways." " I regret having that second bowl of ice cream. The next time I feel like eating too much, I am going to distract myself by going for a walk outside. Or maybe I can do some shores or read a book; anything to get my mind off food long enough for the craving to pass."