Over the holiday season, my friend got into a fight with her mom. She was feeling a tremendous amount of guilt as a result, and felt responsible for disappointing her mother. Obviously, she didn’t intend to hurt her mother’s feelings, yet it happened anyway. She became consumed with concern that her mom would be sad on Christmas and on New Year’s Eve. Suddenly her personal feelings didn’t matter. It occurred to me rather quickly that she had taken on complete responsibility for her mother’s feelings, hence the deep guilt she was feeling. It made me wonder how often we do this? Why do we torture ourselves because someone else feels hurt or disappointed by our actions? Let’s walk through it …

Guilt comes when you take on responsibility for a situation in which someone else’s emotions or expectations were not met. It means you’ve somehow failed to control them. Although it might be hard to see it this way, this is pure ego. The ego’s job is to always evaluate for danger to ensure safety and survival. Constantly trying to neutralize threats is why the ego strives to control everything outside itself, including other humans and their emotions. Guilt is simply an ego trip. Walk through the emotion and ask yourself why you feel responsible for that person’s emotions. More importantly, if they are upset with you, ask yourself why you are not okay with that. Do you always need people to be okay with you? What would it mean if they were mad at you? What are you afraid of losing?

On the flip side of that, the offended person is also suffering from an ego trip. They’re hurt and “disappointed” because you did not meet their expectations. These expectations are again the ego’s way of attempting to guarantee safety. You are going to subconsciously want them to behave in a way that best suits you and gives you that feeling of safety. It is why you feel so negatively when they “fail”, but it’s not really you’re feelings. The only thing that’s hurt is the ego. And if indeed you are feeling hurt, shift the focus internally. Take a few minutes to ask yourself why that conversation triggered you. Odds are that person is triggering an unresolved issue with you. It doesn’t really have anything to do with them or what they said.

At the end of the day, it’s no one else’s job to make you feel a certain way. You have to develop enough self-awareness to realize what it is the mind is doing. There is such amazing liberation when you can step out of the situation and recognize that you can never really control another person’s feelings, just as they can never really control yours. It takes the pressure off everyone, including yourself, and makes it easier to drop those icky feelings of guilt. It also puts all the power back into your hands, because once you realize that you alone are responsible for your feelings, no one’s actions can hurt you. You get to walk away.

It takes practice to break old patterns of behavior. We are so used to apologizing and trying to “correct” the situation, to somehow make it better. This doesn’t just happen with guilt, but really with emotions in general. We don’t trust that in time the issue will resolve itself. We also forget that people have a right to be mad, to be angry. Sometimes it’s medicine and a part of someone’s journey to walk through that anger. You do not have the right to take that from them. Someone once told me that sometimes we have to love someone enough to let them hate us. And I think that kind of love is the purest … to step back from someone and say, “ I love you so much that I will let you feel whatever you feel you need to feel. I’ll be here waiting when you’re done”.

Julia Piantini