I am your quintessential Jewish woman who carries guilt like an extra limb on her body.
Guilty for not doing this, guilty for not doing that, guilty for not going here and not being there.
As a working mom I have the classic “not good enough at my work, not a good enough mom” situation going on.
Always feeling guilty for where I think I fall short. Guilty I’m not like that mom, who always seems so much better than me.
Guilty that I don’t do more, because there is so much to be done.
Guilty when I look back at the choices I made that could have, should have been better.
Guilty for the voices in my head that I really do not need to be guilty about. But, as I said, guilt is like an extra limb of my body. It grows by itself.
Many times, guilt is the color that paints my accomplishments.
I know this isn’t wise, but it is what it is.
When I started meeting people who were found guilty in a court of law for doing truly bad things, I noticed different colors of guilt from mine.
I observed that my students’ guilt comes with an enormous amount of realism and humility. More than anything, it comes with acceptance, acceptance of what happened and an incredible effort to be in motion, move forward, away from the act they are guilty of.
Be present and live in the day is their motto.
When you are guilty of something that you did in the past, the only way you can deal with the guilt is by moving forward and being in motion.
If you don’t, you might stay stuck in the memory of the act that you are guilty of.
I listen to my students express their guilt.
I know when they tell me that they were a “lifer” it usually means they were guilty of something serious. I know when they talk about “taking flight” someone was beaten up, usually pretty badly. I know that there are keywords that they use instead of saying exactly what they are guilty of. Maybe not being completely direct helps with the guilt.
Maybe part of moving forward is calling things alternative names so they don’t feel so bad.
One of the most powerful things my students have taught me is to seek compassion for perpetrators, since they, too, have been victims.
When something bad happens, they talk, of course, about the victim, but there is always a moment that someone talks about holding space for the perpetrator. In the beginning, it made me feel uneasy. I would question and ask myself, if I were related to a victim, would I be able to have compassion in my heart for someone who did something to someone I love?
I am so aware of how important this is. I want to believe that with time I would. But, to be honest, I hope I will never know.
In my anger management class, I shared a personal story.
On a particular morning when I was still driving my children to school, they were being impossible, or maybe I was tired, or maybe I was holding anger from the day before. Who knows?
It was pure chaos in the car. I got so angry I pulled the car over. I rolled down my window and I threw my favorite mug out of the window with my morning coffee.
I then turned to my children and said, “That is how angry I am!”
Everyone was shocked, them and me. The rest of the ride to school took place in complete silence. Later that day we had a good laugh about it. Thank God I have the capacity to laugh at myself!
I shared with the students that I was embarrassed by my extreme act, and that the minute I did it, I felt guilty that I didn’t have more self-control.
One of my students looked at me and said, “Ms., you didn’t hurt no one and you didn’t turn around and give a whooping to your kids. You got no guilt on you. You did what you teach us to do, shift that anger and let it out somewhere else. That coffee cup of yours took a fucking beating! Your story is a good story, not a bad one.”
I laughed very hard at this comment. Then I thought to myself, maybe the key to getting over our guilt is somehow finding a good story in the bad one. Of course, not all bad stories have good in them, but there are many stories that, depending on how you look at them, can change from bad to good.
My students accept the past and use it as a propeller toward the future.
I think our guilt is a propeller for us to do better, to be better.
More importantly, our guilt can be motivation to become who we were meant to be.
We all, really, are just constant works in progress.
When an older friend of mine told me that she went back to therapy in her late 80s, I laughed. “Naomi,” she said sternly, “I know many of my contemporaries are dead, but I’m not, and I still can wake up and be a better me every day. Not to mention that I’d like to leave this world guilt-free.”
I think that’s a really high goal, but it’s something to think about.
I don’t know if I can let go of all of my guilt. Again, as I said, it’s a part of my body, maybe even part of my DNA, but I can rearrange how I look at it in my head.
Want to try with me?