You probably have not thought much about it lately, but guilt is one of the most powerful emotions on earth.
We don’t really like to think about guilt. It feels naughty and dark.
Yet it follows us around like a shadow. You can run and ride for thousands of miles and never outpace your guilt.
And what’s worse is that your running and riding can actually make you feel guilty.
You become like a dog chasing its own tail. Round and round you go.
Instead it pays to recognize the sources of guilt in your life.
Guilt comes from regrets about things you’ve done and left undone.
Guilt comes from not achieving your goals.
Guilt comes from relationships challenged by circumstance, bitter feelings or unresolved issues.
Guilt stems from hurt you’ve done to others.
Guilt even roils up when you’ve got it good and witness the plight of others.
Then there’s religious guilt passed along by the notion of original sin, which basically states that no matter how much you confess to your sinfulness, you were born a sinner and will be a sinner until the day you die. Even grace does not absolve you of that. Confession and absolution get handed to you by a priest or a service. You move on. But guilt follows you around.
Snow globe of guilt
So we live in this giant snow globe of guilt where it is perpetually falling from the sky even when you take it upon yourself to work through guilt issues in an effort to find mental health.
And as if all that were not bad enough, you feel guilty that you cut short that last workout to get home in time to fix dinner or get to bed at a reasonable hour. Your mind starts to imagine a superior motive and talent among everyone else in your sphere of friends and enemies. They work out more than you. They just set a PR. You feel guilt and at the same time ache for revenge.
Ahh, guilt. It runs in our veins. It rides our conscience. We push and push to remove it through effort and achievement. Still there’s that nagging feeling…
So how do you get over guilt, or get through it?
Be patient with yourself
It’s a process, not a one-time event. Because when you get over one type of guilt, another one just as easily comes along. So it’s not just one process, but many avenues of guilt that we must navigate to stay on a straight course in life.
We’ve already put our finger on the key issue with guilt. That is, it can come from many sources, and the fact that it can be so difficult to parse makes it difficult at times to identify its source.
For example, a work associate once embarked on an illicit sexual affair with another woman in the office. At the start their excitement at having sex outside their own marriages drove their behavior and everything seemed so fun and alluring.
Then guilt set in. He turned to me in a moment and panic and asked what to do.
I explained it in these terms. “It’s like using a road map. Marriage is the straight road and that can seem boring. But when you started your affair all roads became possible. Now you feel lost and guilty for that. It’s like you don’t know where to turn next.”
That made sense to him. He ended the affair, went back to his wife and made me swear on a stack of bibles I would never breathe a word about his dalliances.
But guilt is a persistent opponent. It can be at once a controlling force and a confusion of the mind. It stems from your sense of right and wrong and grows into a cancer of the conscience.
It helps to understand the difference between constructive forms of guilt, the kind that helps keep us on the narrow road, versus destructive forms of guilt that push us to feel inadequate or lacking in some way.
Constructive guilt helps us avoid harmful behavior. That is, guilt serves like a filter on our desires which so easily run out of control.
Destructive guilt is a form of neurosis. It forms from worry or anxiety over the scope and degree to which we engage in even healthy behaviors.
Running into guilt
So you can see how guilt related to running and riding can get so complex. We engage in healthy activities and that is good. But those activities can become unhealthy when we indulge ourselves to the point where other activities or relationships in our lives begin to suffer.
If you drew a line with healthy guilt on one end and unhealthy guilt on the other end, you can typically measure where you fall by asking yourself one simple question. “Am I feeling guilt because I failed somehow or because I fear to fail somehow?”
In either case the best response is to forgive yourself or ask forgiveness if you’ve harmed someone, somehow. Then take stock of what you’re doing and write down the emotions that go with your guilt.
Often you’ll find the answer to your guilt in that range of emotions. It works almost every time. Then you can get back on the road with a clear conscience and a clear road ahead.