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.
Thank you for the wonderful words written in this blog. I have had this happen recently with a friend. We were not good friends when we let a mutual friend spin the two of us against each other. For 5 years, neither of us knew we were not being told truths and the two of us refused to talk to each other. 3 years later, she reached out to me and I refused her. 2 years after that, I broke down and reached out to her. We instantly found ourselves in each other top 10 friend circle. We spent time together and chatted endlessly on the phone and computer. Nine months after that “sit down” and discovering we were both played, my newest and dearest friend went out of the country on a vacation to celebrate her Birthday and her Anniversary. She got sick and ended up in the hospital. As she took her last breath, I was texting with her. I have tons of regret, thankfully for me, I had 9 months to live in the NOW and not in the past with one of the most wonderful, kindhearted, beautiful ladies I could have ever had time to get to know. I am sad for the years we missed as I refused to attend her wedding. I am, however, glad that I exercised the steps you outlined in your blog to be a shining example of how to prioritize what is important. As you outlined above, I was not perfect, I needed to accept my role in the original issue and I thankfully made amends.
Again thank you for the blog that hit home for me.
What a powerful story! I appreciate the courage it took for you to share.
Thank you for sharing Becky. It is so wonderful that you reached out and were able to resolve any misunderstandings.