Note: The following is an article writen by my Head Chaplain at the Hospital where I am a Chaplain. I so appreciate James Richardson and his wonderful caring spirit. Director OCA William Dillon
There are various human emotions that are distressing and painful, but few affect us as much as the pain of guilt. Almost everyone experiences guilt in their lifetime. Guilt involves awareness that a person’s action or inaction has injured someone else. Acceptance of personal guilt may be followed by feelings of conviction. Sometimes guilt motivates a person to make amends, to confess and seek forgiveness, and to change their thinking and behavior.
Like frustration and anger, guilt can slow down or totally inhibit an individual’s progress, and at times, it can completely restrain his/her thinking and actions. When guilt is repressed, it can eventually take control of every aspect of a person’s life. It can totally dominate the thinking process, decrease motivation and productivity, undermine self-esteem and sense of worth, and crush any hopes and dreams. Each day can become more troubling and depressing. A mother, Karen Lang, wrote the following about her experience with guilt: One night after my nine-year-old son had just gone to bed, he asked me if I would lie down with him, as he was scared. I was getting ready for a busy week and was tired, so I replied, “No, you’re fine. Go to sleep.”
When he died the following afternoon after being hit by a car, I remembered what he’d asked me. The guilt that followed me from that day on was overwhelming. The guilt I felt after my son died burdened me for several years. Every anniversary, I would go over and over what I hadn’t done during those last few days before his death. I would remember every conversation, every request. The guilt beat me up, it made me replay my mistakes, and it wasted enormous amounts of my energy, re-enacting how I could have done something differently. It made me feel bad even when I didn’t feel bad!
I think one of the reasons it was so hard to give up and let go of my guilt was because I felt the need to push myself after his death for all the things I hadn’t done in his life. I would pretend that if I had made different choices, I could have changed that day. People would remind me of all the things I had done for my son and the wonderful life and love he was given, but it wasn’t enough for me. I constantly questioned why I hadn’t done more. After a few years, I realized that guilt was consuming me and in order for me to move on, I needed to find a way to let go and forgive myself. I was weighed down because I was living a life consumed by the past. Guilt did not allow me to be fully present with my family, or to see all the good that I had in my life then and now.
Studies have proven that many are helped with their guilt when involved in the religious practices of church, prayer and reading the Scriptures. A discussion with a minister, rabbi, priest, or other religious leader can be very supportive for processing feelings of guilt. Still, there are others who may also need the assistance of a psychologist in an individual or group therapy setting for finding peace and healing in their struggle with guilt.
By His Grace,
Rev. James Richardson, Chaplain