Guilt is an Ego Trip: Let It Go

The Drunk Jedi: Kinda Master Your Life by Following the Crooked Path of the Drunk Jedi

This picture appeared all over when I Googled "guilty." I feel bad for being unoriginal.

This picture appeared all over when I Googled “guilty.” I feel bad for being unoriginal.

Every month at Catholic school, my entire class would file into the church to visit the priest one at a time and confess our sins. This was the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or simply “Confession.” I spent the entire day before Confession trying to figure out what to tell the priest.

I was a good girl. I never lied. I never knowingly hurt anyone. I didn’t sneak extra cookies and I didn’t cheat on my homework. Most of the time, I just didn’t have anything to confess. So I would make things up. The only time I lied was during Confession.

But the kicker is that, after I would confess these fake sins, I would spend the next few hours actually feeling guilty and praying for forgiveness. I made up sins and then felt bad about them. *

Many people are conditioned to feel guilt, and to allow others to make them feel bad or better.

Guilt is actually a really big topic. Whole libraries have already been written about it. So I use the above example to zero in on the kind of guilt I’m talking about here (though it could be said there’s only one kind of guilt.) The completely useless, ego-driven kind. Why is guilt ego-driven? We’ll get to that.

Sometimes we do things that really should make us feel bad. At least for awhile, until we deal with it, grow as people, and move on to do bigger and badder things we will feel even worse about. Other times, we feel guilty for completely random crap totally out of our control, or trivial nonsense that shouldn’t matter enough to make us feel bad, like forgetting to take the trash out. That’s the kind of guilt I’m talking about here. The kind that doesn’t make any sense to carry, but which we can’t let go of anyway.

Things go wrong all the time. We open the door too far and the dog gets out, and is hit by a car. A wreck on the highway makes us twenty minutes late for work when we swore we’d be on time. We make a poor choice about who to live with, and then become icy, withdrawn or bitchy to our roommate.

Could we have kept the dog better contained? Sure. Could we have left twenty minutes extra-early for work? Sure. Could we have chosen someone else to live with? Sure.

But we can’t see the future.

And what about lapses of self-control? What about when we eat the cake or smoke the cigarette, though we promised ourselves we wouldn’t? Couldn’t we have kept better control then?

Sure. But in cases like that we’re often fighting forces like biochemistry and addiction, both of which have some pretty big guns to use against us.

Guilt is an ego trip. Guilt is your ego saying you should have been able to control the situation, but you failed. You should have known better. You should have tried harder.

You should have been able to control whether the dog got loose, and that car that was coming down the road at the exact wrong time. You should have been able to control that highway wreck and that traffic jam. You should have been able to control your biochemical drives.

But what if you were doing your best with the resources you had at the time? Chances are, you were.

The truth of life is that you are not in control. As much as you’d like to believe you can control it all and create your experiences exactly as you’d have them play out, life doesn’t work like that. Life is a collaboration between you and everyone else in the world, as well as the forces of nature and a zillion other things I can’t possibly list here, like the stock market and the rambunctious natures of Terriers.

Or you can say that life is a collaboration between you and God, or the Universe, or the Great Spirit, or whatever you believe in (if you’re a believer). And if you think you can control that . . . good luck.

Your word and your will are strong, but they are not law.

Feeling bad for what we cannot control is just another tool our ego uses to beat us up. Realizing this, and seeing how it applies to you, can be a big step toward prying guilt’s cruel claws off your conscience.

As for the self-control guilt-a-holics out there—those of us who can’t stop feeling bad about indulging in habits or pleasures—we need to remember that self-control is a force to be cultivated, and biochemistry doesn’t change overnight.

That’s a whole ‘nother topic for a whole ‘nother article.


* Confession is actually a kind of merciful scam. See, if you truly believe that all you have to do is tell the priest what you feel guilty about and ask God to forgive you, then once that’s done, you really do feel cleansed. You get to lay down that load. You get to feel washed clean.

It’s when you realize you’re being conned that things get harder. Then you’re responsible for forgiving yourself. And that’s a lot harder.


L. Marrick is a historical fantasy writer and freelance copywriter. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. She eats too much chocolate and still doesn’t believe downward dog is supposed to be a restful yoga pose. You can connect with her at either of her websites.

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