I often work with clients who are carrying guilt about something that happened when they were a child or adolescent. Often that means the event happened more than twenty years ago. They spend the rest of their lives feeling like a bad person. When good things happen they may feel as though they do not deserve them. When bad things happen, they imagine they are still being punished.
Guilt serves a purpose. Its purpose is to create sufficient discomfort about something we know to be wrong, so that we will not do it anymore. If it is possible to rectify the wrongdoing (tell the truth or return stolen goods, for example) guilt pushes us in that direction. Once guilt’s purpose has been served, there is nothing to be gained from beating ourselves over the head with it: certainly not for decades after the fact. If we did something in our youth when we simply did not know better, or if our actions were in part a result of dysfunction in our lives, then it is important to let it go.
It can be helpful to talk with a member of the clergy, or a therapist, and thereby gain support in the process of healing and releasing. There may be some comfort in writing a letter to whoever has been wronged, whether or not the letter is sent. If it is possible, and will not create more pain for the victim, a personal apology may also be rendered. Then it is time to forgive yourself.
Forgiving does not mean that what happened was okay. It means that you have taken the learning, done what you can to heal the situation, and have accepted the challenge of loving and valuing yourself in spite of the past. If you have vowed to be a better person, because of the discomfort created by those experiences, you may become more evolved as a human being than if you had never erred. You may have more gifts to bring to those around you, because of the humility and compassion with which you have come to view life.
Yes, it is possible to have had a ‘bad’ past, and still be a good person. The Universe always supports us in our efforts embrace truth, integrity and kindness towards others, regardless of where we were coming from before that. And it’s nice to know that it is never too late.
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