Releasing the weight of guilt

How much does guilt weigh?

You're gonna sink wearing that heart of gold
You're holding fast son you better let it go
The weight of guilt son's gonna drag you down
You better let it go else you're gonna drown
Lucero

Guilt is:

1 :the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty
2 a :the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously
b :feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy
3 :a feeling of deserving blame for offenses
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

A certain amount of guilt is healthy as a motivating factor toward change but it depends what your guilt is about and how easy it is to solve. The number one definition implies that you have committed a breach of conduct and you have full capacity to take responsibility, own your mistake and make reparations. Numbers two and three are typically the blame that causes people to be weighed down. If you assume blame for something that is out of your control then you have limited control of taking action toward healing. A common example of this is after someone commits suicide. Often the act of suicide leaves people in a lurch, asking themselves "What could I have done differently?" or "I should have stopped him/her".

This expectation of taking blame for someone else's actions is reflected in the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Where a teenage girl, Hannah, commits suicide and prior to her death sends her friend 13 audio recordings each referencing a different person's responsibility in her death. It appears that each individual has a choice to make, does he/she become burdened with Hannah's death or can they own their actions and work to make changes in the present/future. This is what is referred to as the weight of guilt in Lucero's song "you better let go" "else you gonna drown".

Releasing yourself from this weight is not easy. It requires you to forgive yourself, accept your actions and let go. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. The act of recognizing your mistake is what helps you to forgive and accept yourself. It is then the understanding of the mistake that allows you to let go and choose how you want to change. None of those 13 people "killed" Hannah or can bring her back, but they all have the ability to take to heart Hannah's words and choose to positively change their behavior towards others. It is your choice to sink or swim. Swimming is harder, and yet much more rewarding.

Andrea Begin, LPC

Andrea Begin, LPC

Andrea has over 16 years of counseling experience in a variety of settings. Andrea has a MA in Counseling Psychology and Counseling Education from University of Colorado.

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