Some people deal with their guilt by blaming others.
We may deny our guilt because, very often, we are so full of guilt from the past that we cannot tolerate the addition of one more ounce in the present. We may be afraid that we will lash out, breakdown, or fall apart. It will hurt too much. So we defend ourself against this pain by denying reality and faulting someone else.
A blaming person often seeks out a guilt prone person and together they have a codependent relationship. He dumps guilt on her and she takes excessive responsibility for things that are not her fault. And they are both miserable.
Remorse is the opposite of blame and guilt. Remorse involves assuming appropriate responsibility and taking effective corrective action such as making restitution, or merely saying, “I’m sorry I hurt you”.
To promote remorse, we can choose to interrupt the guilt process. For example, we may accidentally pick up our spouse’s car keys and take them to the office. We may begin to experience a full blown panic attack:
• “What if they really need the car today? It will be my fault if they can’t get to work.”
• “What if they find out I have them? They’ll blame me up for being careless and irresponsible.”
• “How can I give them back without revealing that I was the one who was ‘responsible’ in the first place?”
To short-circuit this process and prevent the “chain-reaction” of pessimistic thoughts from getting out of control, we can remind ourself that we have many other choices now:
• Instead of perceiving this mistake as a ‘crime’, we can choose to perceive it as a human imperfection. Seen in this perspective, we are not guilty of neglect, irresponsibility, Inadequacy or failure. These are not crimes in the first place, so how can we be guilty in the second place?
These are mistakes, and we can learn from them.
•. Instead of berating ourself for our faults and limitations, we can choose to forgive ourself for being so imperfect. We can reflect on our mistakes to understand what we can learn from them, so we can improve in the future.
• Instead of taking others choices personally, we can remind ourself that imperfect people make mistakes, but we are not defined by them. If we can respect ourself in spite of our faults and imperfections, we will make fewer such mistakes.
• Instead of feeling worthless because we made a mistake, we can catch ourself overcompensating by denying or covering up our mistakes. Specifically, we can catch ourself going to the other extreme, defining our worth as a person in terms of perfection, as though we are above sin and fault. That is escaping into denial to relieve our pain. Instead we can remind ourself that “perfect people don’t make mistakes; the rest of us do. But we are not worthless at all, we are merely imperfect.” With time and effort this message can be internalized and incorporated into our self talk to crowd the negative echoes from the past.
• We can choose to do what reality requires. It does not require us to wallow in guilt and anxiety, or self-pity and shame. It requires that we change these exaggerated reactions by using our judgment. Judgement is the soul of decision-making. It tells us what reality requires us to do and not do. It never tells us to wallow. Our shame does that. As a worthwhile human being, we can cope with hurtful things in the future as they come, just like anyone else. We have been coping all our lives. We have not turned into a pile of dust and been blown away by the breeze. We have survived. Our judgment is good enough that we have been able to persevere and overcome the negative events in our life. We don’t need to prevent disaster from happening because our judgment is good enough and we have been able to cope with whatever happens as it occurs
• Reality may require that we make amends, take accountability, express/validate feelings, or listen to pain. We can make a sincere apology for any inconvenience, disappointment or pain we may have caused. This is not a confession of guilt, it is an admission of human imperfection.
• “I’m sorry” is not an admission of guilt, but a statement of regret. Guilt means we are wrong and need to be punished. Regret is the wish that things were other than they are. We would like to undo what occurred, but we can’t. This thing happened, and it’s regrettable. When someone passes away, we say “I’m sorry for your loss.” This doesn’t mean we take ownership over causing their loss, but it means we regret their pain.