If you have ever felt ashamed, then you know just how severely it withers you. It makes you feel small. It bores into your self-esteem and corrodes it fervently. Shame takes away your self-worth. It persuades you to agree with other people who deem you unworthy.
Sometimes good people do bad things. That doesn’t make them bad people. Just because you have done some bad things doesn’t make you a bad person. You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again. We are on a journey of self-discovery; we’re still learning. You can’t be too hard on yourself. We’re not perfect. No one is.
Sometimes we hold a lot of misplaced guilt over things that weren’t our fault or even things we had no control over. It is important to take a step back and see things with clarity. It also helps to purge yourself of the guilt, to just get it out of your system.
Here’s a short exercise you can use to clear the haze.
- Find a quiet place and take a piece of paper and a pen with you. Write down the events that led to your present predicament. Just the events as they happened.
- Write about how they made you feel. Write down all your feelings like you would in a journal – without kidding yourself or filtering anything. If for nothing else, this alone will help you get it out of your chest and you will feel a lot better afterwards.
- For each of those events, contemplate them carefully and ask yourself, was it in my control? If the answer is no, then let it go. There’s nothing you could have done about it. Put down the weight and walk lighter.
- If the answer is yes, then you have some work to do. First, ask yourself why events happened as they did. What was it that you did wrong?
- Learn the lesson in the mistake – actually write down what you learnt from it.
- Finally, and most importantly, make a commitment to yourself. Write it down just to make sure it actually does manifest. Make a commitment to do things differently.
- There’s something that I used to do when I had a hard time letting go of bad things. I found it really therapeutic. I’d take small pieces of paper and write everything I needed to let go of – whether it was the name of a person, all negative feelings and bad habits. Then, I’d light a small and controlled fire in the back yard and like a cleansing, I’d take each piece of paper, commit to myself verbally to let go of whatever was written on it, and then throw it into the fire. Watching it burn to ashes had a finality to it that I found very comforting.
- If you’re going to try this, do it responsibly – no flammable additions to the fire. (Note that this was not in any way ritualistic so don’t turn it into a creepy affair.) It was simply a therapeutic exercise that I only did when I felt that I needed to.
- Learn the serenity prayer and recite it when in a crisis of conscience.
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)