The emotions of guilt, regret, and remorse are among the emotions human beings do most to avoid in life, and this is valuable. They are painful emotions for us to experience, but they, too, serve a valuable function, one which becomes apparent once we hear the message.
Guilt tells you that you have violated one of your own highest standards, and that you must do something immediately to ensure that you’re not going to violate that standard again in the future. Leverage is accessed when someone begins to link pain to something. With enough pain linked to a behavior, that person will eventually change it, and the strongest leverage is the pain we can give ourselves. Guilt is the ultimate leverage for many people in changing a behavior. However, some people try to deal with their guilt by denying and suppressing it. Unfortunately, this rarely works. Guilt does not go away; it only comes back stronger.
The other extreme is to surrender to and wallow in guilt, where we begin to just accept the pain and experience learned helplessness. This is not the purpose of guilt. It’s designed, again, to drive us to action to create a change. People fail to understand this and often feel so remorseful about something they once did that they allow themselves to feel inferior for the rest of their lives! That is not the message of guilt. It’s there to make sure you either avoid behaviors out of your certainty that they’ll lead to guilt, or, if you’ve already violated your standard, it’s there to induce enough pain within you to get yourself to recommit to a higher standard once again. Once you address your old behavior that you feel guilty about, though, and you’re sincere and consistent, then move on.
1) Acknowledge that you have, in fact, violated a critical standard you hold for yourself.
2) Absolutely commit yourself to making sure this behavior will never happen again in the future. Rehearse in your mind how, if you could live it again, you could deal with the same situation you feel guilty about in a way that is consistent with your own highest personal standards. As you commit beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ll never allow the behavior to occur again, you have the right to let go of the guilt. Guilt has then served its purpose to drive you to hold a higher standard in the future. Utilize it; don’t wallow in it!
Some people manage to beat themselves up mentally and emotionally because they are constantly failing to meet standards that they hold for themselves in virtually every area of life.”
Tony Robbins. “Awaken the Giant Within.”