Transforming Guilt Into Gratefulness: A Shadow Work Exercise

I don’t like taking responsibility for myself on my spiritual journey. I wish I had someone to blame. It’s hard enough trying to figure out why I’m here and what I’m “supposed to learn” while I’m here, but the most annoying thing about being responsible for me and only me is the guilt. I have no one to blame but myself these days. 

Guilt is very flexible. You can feel guilty about anything.

Here’s a list of some things that I’ve felt guilty about over the years: credit card debt, over-spending, being an awkward black girl, taking naps, being attractive, being judgmental, anger, lustful thoughts, masturbation, perming my hair, my over-consumption of YouTube videos, my non-existent exercise routine, harsh words I’ve said to others, relationships I’ve ended, my introversion, my love for reality TV, my weight, my diet, my complexity, and my refusal to constrict my spiritual beliefs.

I also feel guilty about the fact that even though I love Gaia more than words can say, I spend more of my time in my one-bedroom apartment than out in nature.

I don’t blame society, or religion, or my family, or vegans, or Instagram for my guilt anymore. I only blame one “person”: my ego. I’ve told you on this blog before that I get along with my ego by personifying her as Babe. In the past I saw her as an enemy that needed to be eliminated, but now I respect her as a bodyguard and a trusted friend. She cares about how I look to others, so she’s a lot like a publicist; and I came to the conclusion that I don’t need to fire my publicist, I just need to make my expectations very clear to her.

I wondered if I could take the same approach to my guilt. Maybe I don’t need to fire my guilt, I just need to have a conversation with her instead (as you can see, I personify everything). If I continue to perceive the presence of guilt as an indicator that I’ve over-indulged in something, made a bad decision, or did something against my core values, then my ego will continue to kick in, perceiving a threat to her righteousness. But what if I told my ego to view the presence of guilt as an indicator that I have something to be grateful for?

When I say or do something that makes me feel guilty, I have options. I can beat myself up for it (been there), I can overcompensate for it (done that), or I can find something about the situation that I can be grateful for. For example, when I watch reality TV for hours, I can choose to feel guilty for wasting my time with such a frivolity, or I can choose to be grateful that I have a TV, that I had free time, and that I got a really good laugh.

Now the gratefulness needs to be followed by shadow work or else it’s just an empty platitude. It’s never okay to lie to yourself no matter how good your intentions are. If I follow the feeling, I can get to the root of my behavior, and when I talk to myself gently it creates a safe place for the answers to flow. I usually find out that I was using one guilt-invoking behavior to alleviate the guilt from something else. I felt guilty about over-spending, so I drank too many glasses of wine before bed. I felt guilty about not meditating, so I went to town on something greasy. It’s endless.

It’s hard, but when I sit with myself and think about why I do everything that I do, I realize that self-forgiveness is always possible. So once I forgive myself, I can be grateful for the experience and train myself for next time. I can set the intention to savor my food and wine and enjoy my entertainment. It’s all about what you believe. So instead of thinking, I’m gonna watch this horrible show because I’m bored and procrastinating on my work, I can instead think: I need a good laugh so let’s enjoy this silly show and savor a glass of wine. It’ll be fun! I’m grateful to have this option.

I noticed that when I set a positive intention, two cool things tend to happen: I don’t feel guilty and I don’t overindulge! I can heed the warning that guilt gives me and turn it into a friend instead of a foe. Maybe that’s why guilt is so flexible after all; it’s meant to serve the ego’s needs and the ego is meant to serve you. It will go where you direct it; it just needs a little guidance.

I used to think that feeling guilty on a regular basis was a noble byproduct of empathy, but maybe it was just a disguise for my savior complex. After all, I’ve been told my whole life that I am a leader and I need to be an example for others. I needed to help people, and how am I helping them when I’m just like them? I needed to be different, “set apart” as the Bible says. I couldn’t be out here sinning, indulging, and wasting my time.

But I quickly noticed that I extended my self-control to a need to control others. I would look down on people for not being disciplined enough because I didn’t feel I was disciplined enough. I would judge someone else because I was constantly judging myself, because I thought that was the right thing to do. I carried my cross from Christianity to Atheism, from Atheism to New Age, and from New Age to… whatever this is. Right now, I have nothing. I have no religion, no axe to grind, and no cross to bear. I have no idea what I’m doing.

My ego used to feel that it was her responsibility to make me look good to everybody and she took that operative very seriously; that was until I sat her down and told her to simply have my back as I allow my intuition to lead my life. Now that she has that perspective, guilt doesn’t bother her as much as it used to. Guilt is now a tool that points me to gratefulness and self-forgiveness. And even though I wish that I could still blame someone or something else for everything, changing the way I relate to my ego has taught me that I can change how I relate to anything. I can blame myself or I can love myself. And loving myself feels great.

Author: Carla Calloway

Aries. Introvert. Creative writer. Food enthusiast.