“Emilia,” “I haven’t told anyone this before…”
When you lose count of the number of times these sentiments have been uttered to you after a deep conversation with clients, friends, people from around the world… even strangers, you begin to see the patterns of your life come together in a way that feels quite bittersweet; bitter because it’s confusing as to why these themes chose you and sweet because the sense of learning yourself is welcomed as a never-ending process.
Often, I would wonder what was it about who I was that made me the “keeper of all secrets?” “What about the deepest parts of them did they see in me, in order to entrust the deepest parts of their souls with?” “How did they know that I was the right person to share their deepest secrets and unhealed wounds with?”
People have shared with me that I have a gift of “seeing people,” the gift of “knowing their soul,” and it is my hope that such a gift I’ve been honored to carry with me in my journey can be shared with you, as you read and dive deeper into this article so that you too, no matter where you are in your life’s journey can take my guiding principles and apply them to help you inch your way towards a further release from the guilt and shame reservoirs that pool in your body, heart, and mind from holding in exile, our deepest darkest secrets.
“I often wonder to myself if only I had…” is the echo of many declarations shared with me in so many conversations I’ve had with others, the comforting (yet sneaky destructive) narrative that we often hold and berate ourselves within the aftermath of a traumatic event, when we are faced with the fact that we actually can’t go back and undo our past.
We all have held this narrative before, often heard in the “I should have ___” statements our hindsight vision offers us. The hindsight bias we tend to have, looking back at a time retrospectively.
For me, they are plentiful; “If only I hadn’t ____.” “I wish I didn’t _____.” “If only I had said ___ instead of _____.” “Well if I had been there, they wouldn’t have had _____ happen to them.”
But why is it that when it comes to looking backward and seeing how we “could have” (if we had the awareness we do now) helped someone else but yet didn’t, the guilt and shame feels 10 times more painful than we do when it comes to the guilt and shame we feel in abandoning, mistreating or accidentally putting ourselves in harm’s way?
I invite you to open up to the interworkings of how to work through guilt & shame because what has proven to be true time and time again is that if we do not find the courage to learn about these two, we will feel burdened by them forever.
Guilt and shame are emotions that can be incredibly burdensome, and they often result from past actions or events that we wish we could change. To work through these emotions, it’s essential to start by acknowledging them, and the narrative (i.e. meaning we have given them). As IFS teaches us, our inner world is composed of different parts, and some of these parts may be carrying a heavy load of guilt and shame.
Begin by engaging in a compassionate dialogue with these parts of yourself. Approach them with understanding and empathy. Ask your innermost parts what they need to feel heard and validated. In IFS, we aim to unburden these parts and help them heal. You may find that these parts have valuable lessons or intentions that can guide your healing process. You may find that they hold narratives, beliefs, or had unrealistic expectations of you while in those moments that you’re looking back now on and wishing could have changed.
Consider practicing self-forgiveness for all of those times that your exiled parts are holding on to. Understanding that we are all human, and we make mistakes plays a vital role in this process. Guilt and shame can serve as signals that something is amiss, or otherwise, an informant of our values, but they shouldn’t be permanent residents in your emotional landscape. By acknowledging the lessons learned and committing to growth, you can start to release yourself from the weight of these emotions as you navigate yourself to a place of liberation and release.
Ask your parts: Did I have good intent back then? Did I miss something back then that is clear in hindsight now? What other factors contributed to this event outside of my own behaviors?
Releasing guilt, shame, and regret is not a one-time event but a continuous practice. It’s like tending to a garden; you need to nurture your emotional well-being regularly. Here are some of the most common and effective ways to approach your guilt, shame and regret holistically:
- Self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Just as you would show compassion to others, offer it to yourself. This is a fundamental aspect of the IFS model and is an incredible cornerstone in the process of releasing yourself from the grips of the darkest secrets that hold you prisoner.
- Mindfulness: Practice being present in the moment, observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This can help you avoid dwelling on past regrets and future anxieties, one of the biggest elements I see people struggling to give themselves.
- Forgiveness: Forgive yourself for past mistakes and recognize that growth and transformation are ongoing processes. It’s not a one-and-done type game.
- Seeking support: Don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted friends, family, or even someone on the Evolve team to help you on your journey of releasing. Sharing your burdens can be a powerful way to heal and when done with the right people releases the burden outwardly, so that you don’t have to concern yourself with not wanting to be a burden to someone else.
- Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a therapeutic way to process and release pent-up emotions of guilt, shame, and the tense emotions that get locked up inside our bodies in concealing the deepest and darkest of secrets.
Please try your very best to remember that this holistic approach is not about erasing your past but about falling into the abyss that acceptance, growth, and peace can bring you in the journey toward becoming the best version of yourself. You are not defined by your mistakes or past actions; you are defined by your capacity for healing and growth.
I often bring up the concept of Kintsugi — which means “join with gold” — the Japanese art of repairing broken objects, often ceramic pottery or glass, traditionally, with gold lacquer to piece the shards together again, creating a more beautiful object through the acts of breaking and repair.
When we experience trauma, a bothersome event, or get news of a part of our past that is unsettling and we have a hard time accepting as the reality we once lived, I observe that many people feel and describe a sense of “inner brokenness,” an emotional shattering of sorts. Being able to picture our emotional landscape through the lens of Kintsugi, we can use self-leadership to “fuse back with (emotional) gold” the bits and pieces of ourselves that had gotten lost, broken, abandoned, sworn to secret, or felt shattered as a result of our experiences.
One thing that is key to understanding our own regrets, guilty feelings, and experiences of shame is that regret often arises when we dwell on missed opportunities or things we wish we had done differently in the past. To minimize our regret and to fully break free from our darkest secrets, I encourage you to look ahead to your future self.
Visualize the person you want to become and the life you want to lead. Consider the choices and actions that align with that vision. Now, what’s one small step you can take to release the guilt and shame you might have right now in reflecting on one of your deepest darkest moments? Who can you bring into your close circle to share and unburden the deepest wounds of your past, to integrate them more into your future?
When faced with decisions in the future, to avoid being a continuous prisoner of the guilt and shame you now hold, try to think from the perspective of your future self. Ask yourself how you would feel about a particular choice a year from now, a decade from now. This approach can help you make choices that are more aligned with your long-term goals and values, and perhaps help you to take steps towards a more unburdened future.
Moreover, it’s important to understand that life is a journey of continuous growth and evolution. Mistakes and missteps are a part of this journey. Instead of dwelling on regret, focus on what you can learn from your past experiences and how they can contribute to your personal growth.
Remember that you don’t have to face breaking free from and releasing your guilt, and shame, and unburdening your deepest secrets alone; there is support available, and it’s okay to ask for help. Evolve is here for that very purpose!
Don’t wait, connect with us so that you can finally work through it adaptively. We would adore helping you to navigate breaking free from these toxic cycles that are keeping you stuck from becoming the best version of yourself.
We hope you take the time to let this sink in, honor yourself, and let us support you in that journey.
DM, book a FREE call or email me directly.
Love & light,
National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3084020/