Using Compassion to Heal Feelings of Guilt

I recently sat down with Michael Schiesser and Neelama Eyres, Co-authors of Divorced with Love, and co-founders of Inner Journey Institute. As a divorced couple who co-parent their special needs child and work together, they know first-hand the emotional challenges of divorce. They have navigated feelings of resentment, anger, betrayal, and guilt. It’s this last emotion I’d like to focus on here.

Guilt is an insidious feeling that can eat away at self-esteem. It keeps us up at night. It overwhelms us in waves when we let our minds wander. But, ultimately, it’s not a very productive feeling to have. It seldom spurs us onto new discoveries about ourselves or moves us forward. Guilt is about looking backwards, not forwards.

Definitions

It’s important to look at the slippery way words can be used by magazine articles, news reports and even well-meaning friends to make us feel bad. Let’s look at a popular word: Compassion.  Compassion is “the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”. It’s important to understand that being compassionate doesn’t mean taking on the other person’s pain. It doesn’t mean trying to match their pain by being hard on yourself. It’s about giving appropriate space and support to the person, not about experiencing their pain, pang by pang. But what you open the door to there, is simply joining in on the pain by indulging in guilt. What you do, then, is simply move from guilt to pain to further guilt. It’s easy to get into the spiral.

You’re Not Alone

In divorce, you can be pretty confident that you’ve hurt your spouse. Maybe you were unfaithful. Maybe you shut down communication. Perhaps you turned your attention somewhere else, like to the children or to your career. No matter what the situation, we can find things we’ve done wrong in marriage. A recent article about self compassion, “Healing Your Shame and Guilt Through Self-Forgiveness” in Psychology Today points out a difficult-to-swallow truth, “we have all harmed others.” This isn’t a way to shame the entire planet. Instead, it’s a way to let us off the hook. The article continues, “every single person on this planet has harmed at least one other person in ways that have shaped that person’s life. Knowing this and knowing that you are not alone, can help you to have compassion for yourself and to forgive yourself.”

Be Kind to Someone…Yourself

So, just as you would comfort a friend who’s feeling guilty and beating themselves up for emotional missteps, try being kind to yourself. Remember, you are a human being with flaws and challenges. And that’s ok. We are all always growing. Not only are you not the same person you were yesterday, but there’s no limit on who—and how—you can be tomorrow. So show yourself the compassion, latitude and understanding you would show to a friend.

Let go of the guilt.

If you’re considering divorce but would like to try an approach that might mean a brighter future, call my team to schedule a confidential consultation.