Lessons from Purging: Guilt and Forgiveness

This summer, I am working on decluttering both my house and my mind.  Sometimes, one leads to the other.  So, in this series, I will be writing about lessons about life, that I have learned through the purging of the majority of our possessions, as we prepare to create a new life for our family.

Yesterday, we cleared out the basement.  Remember, we lived in the basement all winter.  As I cleared out the place where most of my struggles took place, I was overcome with guilt.

I felt guilty…

  • When I saw all of the in-kind sheets that I did not complete.  In doing so, I missed out on opportunities to play with Beanie AND funding for her preschool.
  • When I saw our pool table, juke box, and other entertaining items.  I remembered that the last time we had friends over, was before Christmas.  Blinded by my own struggles, I had pushed other people away.  Some friends, we will probably never see again.  Others, we will see a lot less.  We missed out on opportunities.
  • When I saw the place where I sat, in front of the space heater, when I wrote my blog posts and corresponded with friends.  Unable to see beyond myself, I missed out on opportunities to realize when I could help others.  I was not completely honest in my writing, and often avoided it altogether, due to my perfectionism.  Other friends I took advantage of, so focused on my struggles and so blind to the struggles they may have been facing–and becoming quite needy.

Decluttering always seems to bring with it guilt. And a little bit of guilt can be helpful–it often indicates that we are on the wrong path and need to make some changes.  But after those changes are made, it serves no purpose.

Guilt is fear-based.  If I am honest with myself, I am afraid that those I’ve wronged are still angry at me.  I’m afraid that my daughter will not have as many pleasant memories of me, or that we won’t have the relationship that we could have had.  I’m afraid that I have prevented her from reaching her potential.  I’m afraid that I have damaged friendships.

The list of fears goes on and on.

The remedy for guilt is forgiveness.  I know I’m always hesitant to forgive myself, especially when I don’t know whether the other parties involved have forgiven me.  I feel like I need permission to let go of the guilt.

But the thing is, we don’t need permission.  And we are doing nobody favors by beating up on ourselves.  We are not helping the people we’ve wronged, by not allowing ourselves to move on.  What we need to do is repair the damage, if we can. Otherwise, we need to apologize, if we have the opportunity.  Then we need to forgive ourselves.

Remember that to forgive is not to say that the action was right or allowable.  We’ve all done things that are neither right nor allowable.  To forgive is to let go of anger, guilt, and vengeance.  After we’ve done what we can, we need to let go.  Then we need to move on.

And what if people are still angry?  Grand gestures–or even diamonds and flowers–will not buy forgiveness.  Needing to forgive, is a painful place to be, and it is something that the people who are angry still need to work out.  We can do the right things–and allow time to pass, so that they can see that we have changed.  But ultimately it is their decision and their internal struggle.

Our actions do have consequences, and we have to live with them.  But we need to move forward from that point.  Still, I have often found that, once I was able to let go and forgive myself, it turns out that the other parties were not as angry as I had thought.  I was so angry at myself, that I saw it in my perception of their words and actions.

We have the power to change what is inside of us.  And a little love goes a long way.

Hearts_and_flowers : Bunch of the pansy flowers on white background

18 thoughts on “Lessons from Purging: Guilt and Forgiveness

  1. It’s very interesting what you said about forgiveness. My mother-in-law has just been placed in hospice this weekend and this the end of her life. She was not the easiest person to get along and caused many many problems for people, that’s how she lived her life. I went to see her alone this weekend and she apologized to me for being so difficult for the last 30+ years. When I left the hospice I thought to myself how sad that she was so difficult all these years when she had the power to change that, unfortunately that is what people will remember about her. I’m glad I got to see her though before she passes. I just hope she says the same thing to her children and grandchildren cause I’m sure they would like to hear it as well.

  2. This one really hits home for me. When I was going through tough times in my marriage and then my divorce, I avoided most people. I felt like everything was my fault, that I was messing up my life, and that no one would ever forgive me. The few people I did talk to I probably did take advantage of. Now that it has been years since I have spoken to most of my old friends it feels like it has been too long to go back and try to mend fences. When I am going through stuff like that I always feel so alone, like no one else could possibly understand how hard life is for me, but really everyone has struggles. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • I had to comment here, Susan, I was like you. I closed myself away from friends when I went through rough times and thought everyone would judge me. I thought often of some of them, but didn’t reach out to reconnect. One was very important but still I avoided contacting him. After 32 years he contacted me. We are now great friends, it is never too late.

    • Susan, there are times when we need more attention, and we can’t see beyond our own situation. You had needs, and fears at that time, and you did the best with the resources you had. (P.S. I know forgiveness has to come from within, but I do want to tell you that I did not mind staying up to listen to you, during that time.) Friendships go through phases of coming closer and drifting apart, slightly. Personally, I don’t think you have any fences to mend, other than the one with yourself.

      • Thanks for being a good friend 🙂 I am still working on a lot of the “mental clutter” and it has been really good to read your thoughts as you are going through so many of the same emotions that I am working on.

  3. Great stuff, Bethany. I love when I can simply disengage from my own thoughts. I am getting faster at getting there, in some cases within seconds, and then I can get on with living. Spinning my wheels never ever gets me anywhere, but action does.

  4. A friend of mine once told me that when I’m angry at other people, I’m hurting myself more than them. How doubly true when the person you’re upset with is yourself.

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