Guilt, in the eyes of the law, is pretty much a black and white issue. You either are or you aren’t and depending on your circumstances you either face the consequences of your actions or are free to go about your business.

Guilt, on a personal level, is a much more complicated matter.

According to an article I recently read there are five main types of guilt. I’m no psychologist so I don’t know if I agree with that or not but for the purposes of this write up I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of them. Along the way, I’ll try and throw in some personal anecdotes (some might already be documented here) that I think might be relevant.

The first, and probably the most obvious, is the feeling of guilt when it’s because of something you did. Maybe it was out of spite, revenge or just because you were in a shitty mood. Maybe your actions were directed to a member of your family, a friend or even a complete stranger but something you did along the way has caused them to feel some kind of pain be it physical in nature or mental. You know you fucked up. It’s even worse if you did what you did anonymously. If that’s the case, you might even take some guilty pleasure in thinking that whomever your intended target was, they were deserving of your actions. I’m here to tell you from personal experience, it doesn’t work that way. Over time, the pleasure you once enjoyed will inevitably sour and you’ll come to regret your actions.

The second kind of personal grief is feeling guilty for something you didn’t do but deep down inside really wanted to. I look at this in two ways, one good and one bad.

The good kind might be where you can take some solace in knowing that but not doing something, you actually did the right thing. Maybe it’s something like lusting after one of your friends significant others and not having the balls or opportunity to fulfill your desires. Still, you might have some guilt about having those feelings in the first place but there’s no real sense of regret.

The bad kind might be where, for whatever reason you tell yourself, you just didn’t follow through on your wishes. From a personal standpoint, mine is knowing that I never went to college even though I had plenty of opportunity to do that back when I was young. Now that I’m older, the excuses I made to myself at the time seem lame and while I’ve done okay career wise, I still think it would have been nice to at least have the experience and who knows, maybe the sheepskin would have advanced my career even further. If you want to read about another personal experience, click here.

That my friends, is regret.

The next type of guilt you might feel is for something you think you might have done but in reality, it never came to pass. Based on your own personal experience, this one might take years to develop. I know in my case it did. As the time passes and memories become fuzzy, your mind might begin to tricks on you and you find yourself taking blame something you never did. Truth be told, I don’t know how to soften or rid yourself of those feelings. I’ll leave that up to you.

The fourth type of guilt is knowing that you didn’t do “enough” to help someone. I put the word enough in quotes because it’s really hard to define. Maybe it’s physically tending to a sick friend or relative but after awhile your heart isn’t in it anymore and you find yourself making excuses for your lack of involvement. Maybe it’s seeing victims of some type of catastrophe such as a natural disaster and knowing that instead of just writing that check you could have actually volunteered your time to aid them in some other way such as collecting food or clothing.

I’ve felt this many, many times in my life and have recently decided to do something about it. Rather than plop my ass on a bar stool three or four times a week I’ve been donating those hours to a worthy cause. If you’re interested, the basis for my renewed interest can be found here.

The last type of guilt that was mentioned was the feeling that you’re doing better than someone even though you have no right to be. For more about that, I suggest you start by reading survivor guilt and then take it from there.

On a personal note, I’ve got a slew of that shit to deal with. If you’re so inclined, you can find most of them in Matters of the heart.

In closing, depending on our make up, we all deal with guilt in different ways. I’m no shrink but the best advice I can give is not to wallow in it.

Do something.

Here's what I want you to do. I want you to think about something horrible that you've done to another person -- maybe somebody close to you, maybe a virtual stranger -- something that you have reflected on and mentally beaten yourself up over having done. Then I want you to forgive yourself for it.

Maybe it was something you did when you were young and impetuous and didn't think things through. Or something you did in a rage, or overwhelmed by grief, or some other such unbalancing emotional force. Maybe it was even something done under the blinding light of purely selfish desire, a foolish compulsion of some sort to get for yourself and deprive from the other person. Maybe pride drove you, maybe some misused sense of duty. Maybe any or all of these things played bit parts in it.

So I want you to look at yourself in the mirror as though you are looking at another person whom you love dearly, but who has screwed up. I want you to look at this person as you would look at your own repentant child, as you would look at your own wayward parent making amends, as you would look at your own soul-suffering sibling; and I want you to tell them, "what you did was bad, and wrong, and you know this; you were right to be ashamed for having done it. But you are only human, and I love you, so I forgive you."

We must, every one of us, be willing to reflect upon the things we have done wrong; if we did not experience guilt for them, we would be monsters. But we do, and so we are not monsters, we are but children of our Universe, hopefully stumbling in the general direction of enlightenment.

Forgive yourself. Whatever it was, I know that you are only human, and I forgive you. You are forgiven.

And when you reflect on this thing in the future, when it bubbles up in your mind, remember that you are forgiven; and remember why.

Go in peace.

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