This was first published on KSL.com
I always read your articles and think they are great, but I’ve been hoping you would address guilt, which works on me much like worry. It hangs over me all the time and makes me feel like I’ll never be worth anything. Do you have advice for someone who is haunted by guilt?
Guilt is actually much worse than worry. Worry is at least about the future, a place where you have some control. Guilt is angst about the past, a place where you have no control and cannot change anything (which is why it produces such awful feelings of despair). You blew it and you can't fix it.
You only have two choices at this point. You can spend your days in regret wishing you could change the unchangeable, which is a waste of your time and energy. Or you can learn to forgive yourself and get focused on creating a better future. Obviously you should choose the latter, if you know how to do it.
Here are some secrets to finally making it happen:
Change the way you determine the value of a person
Every person on the planet has one inaccurate, subconscious belief, which causes more trouble than any other. It is the belief that your value as a person is changeable. This would mean you can earn more value through your appearance, performance or what other people think of you, and you can also lose value if you fail in those areas.
This an idea which most of us have accepted as truth and it leads us to seeing some people as “better” than others and creates a terrible fear of failing. It makes life feel like a test to determine your value. But this idea is not truth, it is just a perspective, which means you could change it. You could choose to see human value a different way if you wanted to. (I recommend changing this immediately because this belief is hurting you.)
You could instead choose to see all human beings as having the same, infinite, absolute value that is based on their uniqueness, as an irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, divine souls. You could embrace this idea as truth and decide your appearance, performance and the opinions of others don’t affect your value at all. You could see them as interesting lessons, but trust your intrinsic value doesn’t change, because it is set by God and is therefore absolute.
You could choose to see life as a classroom, not a test, where your mistakes don’t affect your value, but are lessons to make you stronger, smarter and more compassionate. You signed up for these lessons (by making mistakes) because they were the exact lesson you apparently needed. This doesn’t mean you should keep making them. You should learn the lesson, make amends where you can, and move on, but separate the mistakes (lessons) from your value. This powerful change in perspective may take a little while to get your head around, but it will change your life when you get it.
The secret to forgiving yourself lies in forgiving others
This is a profound and life changing universal truth you must understand. The way you choose to see, judge and condemn others determines the way you will see, judge and condemn yourself.
If you are quick to see the faults, flaws and mistakes in others and let those mistakes determine their value, and even condemn them as bad guys or not good enough, you will be giving power to the idea that people can be “not enough” and fail. If you give power to this idea, it will also determine the way you see yourself. It will create a great fear of failing in you and you will be constantly focused on your faults, flaws and mistakes too. They will haunt you.
The more shame you experience around your mistakes, the more you will look for the bad in others to make you feel better. The more you put down, criticize or gossip about others, the worse your own self-esteem will be — and around and around you will go. There is no escaping this cause and effect, it is just how universal law works. You don't want to live this way.
If you want to feel better about yourself and let your past mistakes go, you must decide to see life as a classroom and let everyone (including yourself) be a struggling, scared, amazing, divine, infinitely valuable, innocent being who is doing the best they can with what they know at the time. You must choose a compassion mindset where life is a classroom and we are all innocent, silly, sometimes stupid learners, whose value is fortunately not on the line. This mindset will make you feel much better about yourself and you will also treat other people with compassion and understanding.
Start today and eliminate judging others from your life. Forgive them for their mistakes by focusing on what lessons you learned. When you eliminate anger and blame, you will also eliminate shame. (There are some great forgiveness formula worksheets on the resources page of my website that could help you with this.)
Understand how pointless shame and guilt are
I teach that "shame" is an acronym that stands for: Should Have Already Mastered Everything. If life is a classroom, shame is ridiculous. You are a student in the classroom of life. There is no way you could have known it all all along. Give yourself permission to have been an imperfect work in progress. You were learning and growing. You are on the path of self improvement, and that is enough. Understand that guilt, shame and beating yourself up for years does no good. It doesn’t fix the past nor create a better a future. It makes more sense to focus on who you want to be today.
What other people think doesn’t matter, but what you think does
Remember the opinions of others are just thoughts and ideas in their heads, which have no power, mean nothing and can’t hurt you, diminish your value or change you in any way. (They may influence events in your life, but if you trust the universe is a wise classroom, you won’t worry about that, because it only brings experiences if they are your perfect lesson.) But what you think of yourself matters a lot.
If you see life as a classroom and your value as absolute, you will show up with confidence and people will feel that and respect you, in spite of your mistakes. Even if you made BIG mistakes in the past, if other people can feel that you have learned the lessons, moved on and now know your real value, they will tend to follow suit and let your past go.
If you cannot do this however, and continue to beat yourself up, they will feel this too, and they will also have trouble forgiving you.
Gary Zukav, who wrote "Seat of the Soul," said, “By choosing your thoughts and by selecting which emotional currents you will release and which you will reinforce, you determine the quality of your light. You determine the effects that you will have upon others and the nature of the experiences of your life.”
I believe forgiving works best if you shift your perspective and look at your life in trust that it has always been your perfect classroom. Trust this mistake experience happened because it could teach you something. See if you can name 10 positives that making the mistake has created in your life. This will help you see it as your perfect classroom journey. Then focus on being the most forgiving person you can be. The more you forgive others and allow them to be innocent, struggling students with much more to learn, the better you will feel about yourself.
That is the secret.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.