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Nina Handwerk: Brennan Healing Science Practitioner

Unraveling Guilt: Why wishing you hadn’t done it wrong in the first place isn’t the answer

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We all have aspects of ourselves that do stupid things, react badly, say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time, and leave us shaking our heads, going, “what the #&@* was I thinking?”

To our ego self, these tripped wires of character tend to illicit horrible feelings of dread, guilt, shame. They are the devastating reminder that we are not perfect, pulled together, and as awesomely competent as our ego tells us we must be in order to deserve the good in life.

But if we can pause, and soften to ourselves after we notice we’ve done something utterly ridiculous, a whole other possibility opens.

When we pause and become unguarded toward our self (and anyone else involved), we become open enough to become attuned to the true message that is waiting for us in our out-of-alignment-move. In truth, there is something to be learned, and if we are busy insulting ourselves and everyone else, we won’t learn it.


Every time we regret an action, it is an indicator that in the carrying out of that action, we at some point left our center, our truth, our real self. Our real self is our center, and the closer to it we stay, the happier we feel.

Being curious about why we might have impulsively left our center when we said that stupid thing or made that stupid move, rather than just being upset with ourselves that we did, is like opening a direct portal of insight into the things that make up the integrity, and the very body, or our higher self. And only when we know viscerally and completely what the values of our higher self are, do we really know what makes us happy.

So, what I am really saying here, shockingly, is that there is such a thing as healthy guilt! Healthy guilt is (one of) our barometers of truth. You make your guilt healthy by softening and listening to its message, rather than shaming and blaming yourself and everyone else til the cows come home.

So let’s try this in practice. And I invite you, all throughout this practice, to try to distinguish between the healthy guilt part of your mind (it’ll sound gentle, helpful, encouraging) and the unhealthy guilt part of your mind (it’ll be screaming profanities at you, preaching the tale of how moronic and awful you are…)

1. First, take a deep breath. Think of that last thing that you did, said, thought, etc, that made you feel really bloody terrible about yourself. Maybe it’s super present, maybe it’s something that occurred 10 years ago. On a 1 to 10 scale, 10 being the highest, mark in your mind how much turmoil you have over this incident.

2. Ask yourself, in a calm and open way, “Why did I feel so badly about that incident?” Was it because you’ve done the same thing before and you wished you’d known better? Was it hurtful towards someone? Did it illicit a hurtful response towards you from the other person? Did it make you look bad? Listen with receptivity, not judgment…

3. Breathe into what your subconscious’s answer was. “I felt like I was awful because I’ve done that same thing before, and still haven’t learned my lesson.” “I hated myself because I didn’t pay enough attention and if I had, that accident wouldn’t have happened.” Breathe. Invite more softness.

4. Next, ask yourself, “Why did I perform that action?” This is the juicy part. Let your subconscious speak here, and it will likely reveal the part that needs healing, the part that is still holding on.

5. Breathe into what your subconscious’s answer is. Weed through any justifications, like “I did it because that guy’s a prick.” “I said that because I was drunk.” Those may be the circumstances, but that is not why you did what you did…instead look deeper. “I hoped that if I said what I said to her, it would bring us closer.” “I was so frustrated with my situation that I just wanted to find some way to comfort myself.” “I thought if I compromised, there might be hope for our relationship.” “I was seeking real connection, I just didn’t know how to find it.” These subconscious reasons for doing what we did, will reveal the soft pain and the true intent underneath our impulsive actions.

6. Invite softness. The part of you that made the decision to act is hurting because things didn’t follow the path you’d hoped for. “Oh, honey, you thought that if you spoke your truth, it would bring you closer to that person.” “Oh, dear, you thought that if you could get that person to approve of you, you’d feel comforted.” Try to witness and hold that child part of yourself until you feel it soften, too.

7. Now, invite your inner adult, inner guidance. And ask yourself, “Why didn’t doing what I did, work?” Again, listen for truth, not for more reactivity. “It didn’t work to reach out to her because she wasn’t open to listening,” “It didn’t work to yell because she didn’t understand what I was asking.” “It didn’t work because love comes from within, you can’t harvest it from someone else.”

8. Next, ask your guidance, “What would have worked in that situation?” Breathe in to the word or words that your guidance provides. “I could have talked to someone outside of the situation who could have offered unbiased advice.” “Patience, not haste, would have been the remedy.” “Letting go.” “Being ok with being in pain.” “Honesty about where I was at.” “Admitting that I was afraid.” “Not collapsing even though I felt hopeless.”

9. Whatever guidance you received about the incident, take that in as deeply as you can. This guidance is significant to you on your life path, and undoubtedly, it will be useful again. Write it down somewhere where you will see it again. It will be an anecdote to you, a perfect remedy for your personal version of careening off center.

10. Notice where your charge/turmoil regarding the incident falls now on the 1 to 10 scale, now. Has it reduced significantly? I wouldn’t be surprised if it has…

You can use the prompts in this exercise as many times as you like, with any incident that leaves a remnant of shame, guilt, nervousness, or judgment in your nervous system. When something remains with you, like a little red flag in your consciousness, it usually means that something about the incident went unprocessed, and it therefore still lives in you. You can’t go back and do it over, but you can heal the pain that is held in it.

Notice the difference between things that you walk away from totally unscathed, vs. the things that leave deep marks in your energy field. Isn’t that interesting? Why are some things so easy to walk away from, and others cut to the core?

It is a question of what we are able to digest, vs. what kinds of experiences shock or disturb us so much that we literally can’t move the energy through our field and out. Those things that linger are, essentially, our spiritual homework. They are the things in life that have the potential to throw us off. Yet they teach us so much. Working through them sets us free.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, we can use our guilt as a barometer of truth in our lives. The truth of our being, the body of our higher self, is made up of the guidance from steps 8 and 9 in the exercise. What you digest and learn from your most challenging situations becomes a part of you. Now, you are the person who knows the value of patience. Of reaching out. Of admitting when you’re wrong. Of celebrating what you have. These values are gold. As they integrate into you, you grow in strength, integrity, and wisdom.

So, my underlying message in this is….don’t despair when you fuck it all up next time! Watch how as you process the difficult, icky-feeling situations in your life with more spaciousness, softness and forgiveness, you grow exponentially! And you move closer and closer to your home….your center.

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Nina Handwerk: Brennan Healing Science Practitioner