Hurt without guilt
“The truth is, unless you let go —forgive yourself, forgive the situation, realize the past is over— you cannot move forward.”
— Steve Maraboli*
In the brief existence of this blog, there have been several occasions in which I have spoken about pain. Emotional or physical, caused or acquired, chronic or occasional, pain is a topic that never seems to be talked about enough. This time, the motivation behind this post is to talk about the right to fill pain, the right to suffer, if you will. More precisely, the right to suffer without guilt.
Guilt as payment
It is curious how guilt sneaks through some gap in our lives to cloud everything, even the most deserved of achievements. When we get something that we’ve fought for, we feel guilty for the time we put into reaching our goal; time we took away from our family, from our friends, or from ourselves. When we experience some misfortune, an accusing whisper tells us that "we must have done something to deserve it", grabbing our minds with its unrelenting claws. When we make mistakes and cause someone to suffer, guilt does not hesitate to swing its accusing finger to our face, plunging us into a tortuous process of self-condemnation.
Whether it is due to an achievement, a mistake, or simple bad luck, guilt always seems to present itself as a necessary —and costly— payment, demanding that we accept the debt without objections.
Feeling guilty is a human trait and, perhaps, a necessary one too. Accepting our mistakes and shortcomings is part of our growth as individuals and a basic ability to handle ourselves in our daily lives. You might suggest that that is not guilt, but accountability, and maybe you are right.
However, when guilt goes beyond honesty and accountability, it is time to step back and examine what is really happening.
Are we enough?
It would seem that everything we have, or wish to have, was linked to a merits’ ranking. And while there are things that require our work, effort, sacrifice and dedication, there are others that we’ve enjoyed as gifts from life from the moment we were born. Things like being able to breathe, having a family, being cared for and protected, and enjoying unconditional love. When we grow up and, especially, when we stop being children, these things we thought we’d enjoy forever, seem to become part of a catalog from which we need to select what we want, and pay the tag price.
Mental health issues, like depression, tend to play with our minds and make us think that our worth is low, if not non-existent. Guilt increases that feeling and worsens our grief. Many times, I have experienced a sensation that tells me that whatever is negative, bad or painful is the norm, and that pleasure, enjoyment and happiness are only exceptions. Truth be told, it's something I constantly struggle with. If it weren't for hours of therapy, sincere conversation, and a lot of insistence in giving some value to my efforts, guilt and acceptance of my mediocrity would rule my life with no hope of change.
We find it difficult to feel deserving of a break, or worthy of our own mercy which, many times, leads us to sabotage our achievements. We just let guilt convince us of our worthlessness.
I know what it feels like, and I understand how difficult it is to break free from that feeling but, trust me, it is possible to overcome it, and it is a worthy thing to do.
The right to suffer
There are certain occasions when allowing ourselves to suffer is essential for our mental health. In my case, this is especially evident when I feel powerless and useless in the face of the suffering of a loved one.
As parents, spouses, siblings, or friends, we tend to want to protect our loved ones. It is a primary inclination of our humanity and, when we are unable to do so, the weight of the world falls on us. I don't remember how many times I have screamed in frustration or suffered in silence, unable to provide the right word, the correct piece of advice, or the ideal solution. Dozens of times I’ve heard that it was not up to me to change anything, because "it was not my problem." That has done nothing to help me. If you are anything like me, hearing that you can do nothing because the responsibility does not fall on you, makes you feel even more desperate.
However, this is a reality that we must learn to accept if we want to be of help, not only to others, but to ourselves. By not accepting that there are things beyond our control, we tacitly condemn ourselves to bear guilt that does not belong to us. That way, we miss the chance to accept our pain and to suffer without the need to condemn ourselves for doing it. Suffering is an inevitable and necessary process that helps us externalize our anguish and free ourselves from its oppression. It is what allows us to prepare the way for our healing and, without it, it cannot begin. We cannot "skip" our mourning because it is as necessary as enjoyment. That is why walking through it without guilt and with peace of mind is so important to our lives.
Please, think about this and seek help if you don't feel in a position where you can navigate your pain without carrying the weight of guilt. Achieving that can be very difficult, but when you notice that burden falling from your shoulders, you will feel so much lighter to continue your path with new energy.
So, neither all the good things have to be deserved, nor all that we don’t have is due to a lack of merits. Guilt is not always bad, nor is it necessary all the time. Everything varies according to the situation we are in. Circumstances change and with them, our perspective. To heal, we must be flexible and tolerant, especially with ourselves.
Put the whip aside, sit down with yourself, and let the pain out without remorse. Let your regrets slide down your cheeks, like those tears you have been holding for so long.
We all have the right to make mistakes, to ask for forgiveness, to make amends and, when the time comes, to suffer with dignity. Yes, dignity, without accusing fingers pointing at us, or threats of exemplary punishments.
Don't throw everything away for not being perfect. Who is?
The path goes on, and it is the best teacher.
Get up and continue. The only one who should build the road of your life is you.
* Steve Maraboli (born Apr. 18, 1975) is a decorated military veteran, life-changing speaker, bet-selling author, and behavioral Scientist.