I have been moved to look at this issue for the podcast and the blog due to the amount of people, mainly professionals and parents, that come to me feeling guilty because they believe that they got ‘it’ wrong and now feel guilty about it. This spans from partners in failed or ailing relationships, parents of drug addicted or suicidal children, managers and owners of failed businesses or departments/doctors who have misdiagnosed or surgeons who have lost patients on the operating table.
My thought process around this was triggered when someone came to see me after having a near fatal road traffic accident. Well, it was near fatal for the person that they hit. The guilt was based in the fact that they were looking down at their phone and didn’t see the person step out into the road in front of them. Just a few seconds of lost concentration and ‘bang’, almost dead. That event was bad enough but when the following thought was the anxiety of ‘but would have happened if they had died?, How would I live with it?’
We all make mistakes, it is the human condition.
Some mistakes will be obvious and others hidden. Sometimes the only person who ever knows about it is ourself. Depending on what we were doing at the time of our mistake, will either just effect us or will effect other people, or maybe a lot of other people. So, how do we deal and hopefully come to terms with the results of our mistakes?
I start from the point of view that all of life, positive or negative, is consequential. Everything that we think, feel or do has a consequence, there will always be an outcome of some sort. Some of these consequences will be the result of an intended event or a conscious act. Others will be the result of an unconscious act.
In most cases it is easier to deal with conscious rather than the unconscious acts because when the act is conscious there was a process that justified our actions to us before we committed them. We may regret them afterwards but it was an active decision to proceed at the time.
The person who looks down at their phone while driving and damages another person did not intend that outcome to happen, it was an unconscious act. There was no plan and no forward processing. Often these people are left with the unanswerable questions such as ‘If only I had…; or ‘If only I hadn’t…’ Regret and guilt in these cases is often the precursor of depression, anxiety and some psychological disorders, including post trauma or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
However, whether the action is conscious, planned, deliberate or accidental we are responsible for the consequence of that action and this is what we have to live with.
When I worked in the prison service there were prisoners who had committed terrible acts on other people that resulted in awful injury or even death. Those with a psychotic turn of mind were able to dismiss the consequences of their action and would, in all likelihood going on to do similar things after their release. There were also those that ended up in prison for unconscious acts such as hitting someone when in temper or provoked and the person fell awkwardly, hit their head and died.
Some were there for criminal negligence and lived in an internal hell of self recrimination, guilt and regret and often felt that they deserved the worst punishment possible. For some this became the issue of regret that led to a penitential attitude that sought forgiveness. Some had religious conversions and vowed to live a life of free giving and service to others.
Some of our hardest critics are often the ones that we love, family, friends and partners. Who become over critical of who we are and what we do and seek to blame or punish us for what ‘they’ see as wrong or do not agree with. Of course our greatest critic is our self. If you have an internal critical parent in your mind you will never get it right and potentially always get it wrong.
When developing the steps for the Live In The Present course it was pretty obvious that forgiveness of self and others was the primary step to any level of change. The hurts and grudges that we hold from unresolved past events whether they are to do with our self or with others will hold us back like an anchor if they remain unresolved. Another thing that can really help is an apology. It can unburden you and help others.
However, over all I like the idea that we do not have problems we only have learning opportunities. When things go wrong, or when I get things wrong, my first response is to question why did that happen, what was that about? Somewhere within it will be a lesson that once learned need never happen again. But, like lots of us, I have often revisited the same lessons time after time and only learned in small instalments. Such is life.