Have you ever thought why you experience guilt, regret or shame?
I haven’t. But some weeks ago, a speaker at my church, who is also a writer, talked about why we, as humans, are haunted by the person we are. He said, ‘You experience guilt, shame or regret because you can imagine being the person you should have become.
‘As humans, we can re-imagine ourselves. We can imagine different lives, worlds and realities.’
Which means when you feel regret, you can always imagine yourself handling things better than you did. When you feel ashamed, you can always imagine yourself doing things differently.
This. Strikes. Home.
I’ve never thought of it that way before. Sure, unconsciously, we all know that we can imagine ourselves doing better things and being the better version of ourselves, but that doesn’t necessarily translate actually doing better things. Experiencing guilt, regret or shame is the signal in your brain that you actually know how you should have behaved during that argument.
Unbeknownst to us, deep down, we all know what we’re supposed to do. We can imagine the lives we could have lived. But probably most of the times, we don’t follow our imagination.
One of my unresolved guilts that still made me bit my lower lip today happened in senior high. I was the top student for one subject, and we were asked to do a major report. A friend asked me for help, but I was selfish. I had been working really hard on that report, being sleep deprived for weeks. So I showed her mine, but I scrolled really quickly so she would not be able to actually understand anything.
She took the signal, walked away, and told me, ‘You know, if you don’t want to help me, you can just say it.’ I reasoned with myself then, thinking that at least I had made an effort to help her.
When the reports were given back, I got the top mark. She got the second top mark. She burst with joy, jumping and hugging the teacher, and I looked at my top-mark report in my hands, seeing shame.
I could imagine a better version of myself – the one who helped her friends genuinely without being selfish. But I didn’t do it.
I still fail to do it sometimes. I keep my eyes down while walking pass homeless people. I pretend to look the other way when people ask for donations.
I say words of encouragement to my friends or acquaintances who are facing problems without really trying to help. Words are cheap, actions are expensive.
But I’m learning, and still learning, to not be haunted by the person I am today.
Photo by Lauren Rushing, Creative Commons