I recently heard a story about two elderly sisters who had been estranged for more than 30 years. There was a reconciliation of sorts at the older sister’s deathbed, but after she passed away, the younger sibling was left with guilt. She had missed out on decades of her sister’s life. Didn’t see her oldest niece walk down the aisle. Never met the newest generation of her own bloodline. All because of a stupid fight that led to a grudge of epic proportion. And once her sister died, all she had left was regret, remorse, and guilt.
Guilt is an emotion that is part of my culture. For better or for worse, I’m pretty good at both dishing it out and being receptive to it. But hearing about those sisters who had essentially lost 30 years of each other’s lives made me wonder why. What was so important that each felt holding onto her anger was the right choice?
I frequently listen to divorcing couples express their feelings of guilt about the demise of the marriage. Sometimes they feel like they failed and they’re ashamed. Others speak of regret that their actions led to divorce. The remorse can be acute. Regardless of whether I’m observing feuding siblings or divorcing couples, the emotions of guilt, shame, remorse, and regret inevitably come out.
What I find fascinating is how differently people deal with these emotions. Some remain in denial, some are bent on rationalizing, some are overwhelmed, and some have the ability to deal with these feelings in order to let them go.
It’s undeniable that erasing guilt is healthy, depending upon how you erase it. Try these four steps, and see how it works out for you:
Step 1: Make your amends and/or change your behavior sooner rather than later.
Step 2: Accept responsibility for your role in the situation, and then move on.
Step 3: Figure out what you learned.
Step 4: You’re not perfect — go easy on yourself.
Obviously, you cannot grab the tip of a pencil and simply erase your emotions. But if going through the process is overwhelming to you, or if you’re simply afraid of the consequences, maybe the assistance of a neutral third party to help start the conversation is a solution. I always offer an initial consultation at no charge, and I can provide some suggestions about how to open the door. I can even initiate the conversation for you. You might be surprised at the level of cooperation displayed when a mediator joins you at the table.