Dealing With Stress — How To Overcome Guilt And Anger
HOW EASY IT is, as human beings, to condemn ourselves and live with unhappy memories of some time when we failed to live up to the best we know, made some wrong decision or said something we later regretted.
In our human consciousness it is easy to live with the errors of the past and make ourselves miserable because we didn’t express all the good that we know we can. But, in our higher awareness of our spiritual nature, we know that we can’t afford it! Guilt and anger with ourselves, even unhappy memories of past failures and wrong actions, are stress-producing emotions that will interfere with our ability to operate successfully in our world today. So we must learn how to overcome them. It may appear to be a difficult undertaking, but for our own spiritual well-being it must be done!
It is especially hard to overcome our own memories when other people were aware of our slip or shortcoming, but that, too, can be worked out, and we can have greater success and happier experiences than ever before.
Consider the case of Eric Heiden, the speed skater from the United States who made such an outstanding record at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Here was a young man who had spent years preparing for this moment. Not only did he have the pressure of his own demands on himself, but he also had all the stress of knowing that the hopes of many people were riding on his success or failure. Then, too, there was the emotional impact of representing his country in the best possible way.
During the 1500-meter speed skating competition he slipped. Millions of people, watching on television all over the world, saw it happen. It was an error that could easily have cost him the race. Had he simply taken a moment to condemn himself for the error or to wonder what people would think, he would have lost the race. But he didn’t.
After he had won the race and the gold medal, someone asked him what he was thinking after he slipped on the ice. The skater replied that he immediately forgot the error and concentrated on the race. This is the key to successful living. We must learn to remedy our errors and then release them, concentrating on winning the race that life has to offer at the moment, without regrets about the past or worries about the future.
The apostle, Paul, was conscious of this. In writing to the people of Philippi, he pointed out that he was well aware that he wasn’t perfect. “But,” he added, “one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13,14 RSV)
He was giving a lesson in stress-free, productive living. Certainly he had made mistakes, some of which were vividly remembered by others among the early Christians. He had actually persecuted those who followed the Jesus Christ way, and after he had his spiritual awakening, there must have been times when the memories came back to plague him. But he realized that he could only fulfill his mission in life by letting the past go and living to the best of his ability in the present. He couldn’t afford the luxury of a “guilt trip”! And neither can we.
Jesus, too, pointed out the importance of forgiveness. He did it by acting as God’s channel to let an individual know that that person has been freed from past mistakes and the results of those past mistakes.
When some friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing, Jesus first said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:20 RSV) He was looking into the heart of the individual, and He knew his need.
Many times people punish themselves for past errors by developing physical difficulties. (This is not usually done consciously, but it is, nevertheless, effective.) Jesus recognized that this was the cause of the man’s paralysis, and He knew that simply healing the individual’s physical difficulty would not solve his problem. Sooner or later, he would develop other difficulties, unless the feeling of guilt that was behind it was corrected. In order to experience permanent healing, he had to be released from his own feeling of self-condemnation. And so Jesus started the healing treatment by inviting him to accept the forgiveness he needed.
Naturally, Jesus’ audacity in telling the man that his sins were forgiven was questioned by the scribes and Pharisees who were watching, but the Master handled that, too. He asked, “Why do you question in your heart? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Luke 5:23 RSV) He answered His own question by telling the patient to rise, take up his bed and go to his home. And he did, effectively demonstrating the power of the spiritual forgiveness of his past errors, whatever they were.
Jesus’ teachings embody forgiveness — of everybody, for everything, everywhere, all the time. And that includes forgiving yourself!
Forgiveness not only includes giving up wrong thoughts about other people and situations, but also changing our thoughts about ourselves. We cannot call forth our greater potential and live in peace and harmony as long as we allow our thoughts and emotions to be disturbed by guilt and anger against ourselves for mistakes or failures of the past. For our own sake, and for the sake of our world and our work here on earth, we must forgive — ourselves as well as others.
Jesus did not take personal credit for forgiving the paralytic’s sins. Neither did He take personal credit for healings. He pointed out that “the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Luke 5:24 RSV).
Unity founder Charles Fillmore explains that, metaphysically, the Son of man is “that in us which discerns the difference between Truth and error” (The Revealing Word, Son of Man). He further points out, “When we get this understanding, we are in a position to free our soul from sin and our body from disease, which is the effect of sin.” (Ibid, p. 181)
So the real cleansing takes place within the individual. Jesus recognized that He was simply the channel through which the paralytic consciously accepted forgiveness of his error and changed his thoughts and feelings so that he could accept his healings. So can we. And, for the health of our bodies and peace of our minds, we must learn to do this.
As long as we remember and regret a mistake of the past, we are, in effect, punishing ourselves for it, destroying our peace of mind, our joy in living — and, perhaps, our health of body. Certainly our human relationships and affairs will reflect unhappy results from our stressful condemnation of ourselves.
Jesus said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 RSV). When we forgive ourselves in the sense of discerning the difference between Truth and error, choosing the Truth and releasing the wrong, then we are forgiven and can go forward to make amends and build a better life, wherever we are.
There are some basic rules we can follow in freeing ourselves of all feelings of guilt and anger and building a stress-free, productive, fulfilling life.
Accept God’s forgiveness.
The apostle Paul was well aware of the grace of God, the forgiving love of our Heavenly Father. Perhaps because he was well aware that he had been forgiven much, he frequently spoke of the grace of God.
In writing to the Ephesians, he told his friends, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power.” (Eph. 3:7 RSV)
Had he continued to remember his persecution of the early Christians, refusing to accept the forgiveness of God, he could never have conducted the powerful, expanding ministry that he developed. He was a tremendous channel of the spiritual message because he was willing to accept the grace of God, let go of the mistakes of the past and go forward into the work of the present.
God does not hold us in error. We hold ourselves there by remembering the wrong or by repeating the error because we have not changed our thoughts and feelings. In order to be freed from mistakes and the results of mistakes, we must change inside of ourselves. When we change, we find that God has forgiven — not because He was awaiting our action, but because God is our loving, heavenly Father, continually awaiting our acceptance of our divine heritage of all good.
As Jesus said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20 RSV), so God is continually saying to us, “Accept my forgiveness and make a new start. You don’t have to continue to live with the negation and fears of past errors. Change your thoughts. Correct your thinking. Direct your strong feelings toward positive, constructive ideas. Make yourself a new life now!”
The grace of God, the forgiving love of the heavenly Father, is ours for the claiming — here, now, any time. As long as we continue to hold on to the memory of past wrongs, we will have them in consciousness and stand a good chance of making the same mistakes again. In order to be free, we must change our thinking so completely that our minds are no longer in tune with the error thoughts and, hence, do not bring about repeat performances.
In the story of Jesus and the paralytic, we find that the paralyzed man had to make a choice. He could accept forgiveness and open the way for his healing, or he could reject it and go on punishing his body for his past errors. He chose to believe, knowing that the Master had seen to the heart of his trouble. He then chose to be free of the sins of the past. Ana so he was healed.
We, too, can listen to the voice of Spirit, inviting us to be free of past errors and accept the healing life of the Christ.
Many people are harder on themselves than others might be in remembering the times of shortcoming. They may feel strong feelings of guilt and anger long after the others involved have forgotten a situation. And, of course, the only ones they hurt are themselves.
Sometimes individuals feel that they should be punished for their “sins” — mistakes or errors. If nobody else punishes them, they punish themselves — mentally, emotionally, and, consciously or unconsciously, physically. The error may have been small, or it may have been large. It doesn’t matter. The punishment is not determined by the mistake itself, but by the individual’s thought about it.
Many people subject themselves to a continuing “guilt trip” by condemning themselves for having destructive habits, while continuing to indulge in those practices that they know are harmful to their health.
Those who smoke or drink in excess frequently realize that they are harming their bodies, but feel that they are in bondage to the habit. To console themselves for a feeling of inadequacy or guilt, they may try to comfort themselves by smoking even more or trying to drink themselves into oblivion. It doesn’t work! The more they indulge the habit, the more they continue to condemn themselves, and sooner or later, they have to face the consequences, made even more difficult by their hard feelings about themselves.
Recognizing that God forgives, we can choose at any time to accept His forgiving love and make a new start. The sooner we do this, the easier it will be to free ourselves from those feelings of stressful inability to handle the situation.
Perhaps one of the most frequent causes of stress in our modern overfed society is the inability of many people to stay on a diet.
How many individuals go through life losing a few pounds, only to get to a certain point where they go off of the diet and put the weight back on. Then they dislike themselves, and, perhaps, eat even more to comfort themselves for having disappointed themselves.
God continues to see us as His beautiful, perfect children, regardless of how we abuse our bodies. If we will return to His vision of us and identify with the correctly proportioned, attractive person we are designed to be, then He will free us from past errors and help us to establish new eating habits.
It’s up to us! We cannot express God’s perfect ideas while filling ourselves with negative pictures of ourselves. And this is what we are doing through condemnation and guilt feelings.
Concentration on past errors and present bad habits simply concentrates the wrong and perpetuates it in our lives. Concentrating instead on God’s desire for us, His children, to express perfection will free us from stress and enable us to live by a higher pattern of good.
Perhaps a less obvious habit that plagues many people is the habit of procrastination. We know something needs to be done, but somehow we continue to manage to be “too busy” or to find other reasons to put it off.
Of course, while we are consciously playing games with ourselves, putting off doing the things we know need to be done by us, our subconscious is well aware of what is going on. It knows that we feel a need to get the job done and out of the way, and, even when we aren’t listening, it is programming our consciousness with the feeling of guilt. While we may go blithely along, making excuses to our conscious selves, we still have that nagging feeling of being unhappy with ourselves.
We can’t afford it! Many times the project of getting the job done would be minor in comparison with carrying around that feeling of self-condemnation for not doing it.
Of course, accepting God’s forgiveness also includes one other important factor. When we forgive ourselves by realizing that God forgives us, we must then be willing to release the error, the habit and even the memory of it. As long as we continue to call to mind those mistakes of the past, we haven’t really accepted God’s love and forgiveness. It is only in total forgetfulness of past errors that we really forgive them. But first there is something else we must do.
Correct the error.
As long as we continue to perpetuate the error, it doesn’t matter how many times we forgive ourselves. The forgiveness is only complete when we have finally overcome the wrong in mind or action and begun a new life experience based on new goals and new patterns of thought and activity.
God forgives us continually, but a necessary part of true forgiveness is our own willingness to correct the wrongs of heart and hands that brought about the error in the first place.
Suppose we have been in bondage to some harmful habit. As long as we continue to hold on to the habit, we can’t really be free. We must change our basic practices. We must learn and practice a better way if we want to be rid of that nagging little doubt in the subconscious mind.
Consider the move that Eric Heiden made when he slipped in the race. He immediately forgot the error as he slipped back into the long, rhythmic stride that was working so well for him. Releasing the thought of the error was fine, and an important part of the procedure, but getting back in tune with the work he wanted to accomplish was also necessary.
So it is with us. Just telling ourselves that we forgive ourselves is not enough. We must bring constructive action out of the situation. We must get back in stride with life in a constructive, progressive way if we want to win the race.
Sometimes we may have been condemning ourselves for past errors that can’t be corrected in outer ways. For instance, they may involve something that happened with other persons who have passed on or someone with whom we have lost contact. Sometimes we do not feel led to take outer steps to contact a certain person.
Reestablishing happy, harmonious relationships with others can be a very fulfilling activity. Even simply doing what we feel is right may be fulfilling, in spite of the fact that others may not be receptive to our action. This is between us and God. If we will pray about it, we will know what outer actions should be taken, or, if this is a case where no outer action is necessary, we will know that, too.
But suppose there is a case where we cannot take the outer steps that we would like to take. We can still do whatever is necessary to resolve the errors completely within ourselves.
If someone has passed on, we may be guided to send them loving, trusting thoughts of release as we see them enfolded in God’s love.
If we no longer have contact with the individual, we may hold some thought of forgiveness and release, knowing that there is no separation in Spirit, and they will receive the thought in whatever form they can accept it. At least we can free ourselves.
Once we have taken whatever steps we can to correct the error, we are ready to get on with the business of living.
“Press on toward the goal.” (Phil. 3:14 RSV)
Once we have freed ourselves from the mistakes of the past and the results of the past, the next business before us is to get back into the spirit of stress-free, spiritual living.
The goal, of course, is “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14 RSV), and we will never be satisfied until we attain it. Our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, came to show us how to live. We cannot follow all the way all at once, but we can learn to make one overcoming after another as we keep coming back to that ultimate goal, the goal of expressing our own inner spiritual nature.
It is well to be made aware of our errors. It is good to be conscientious in correcting those things that can be corrected. But the time comes when we must put all that behind us and get back to our affirmative prayers of realization and atonement as we press on toward the goal of perfectly expressing our Christ nature.
When we do, we will forget the stressful guilt and anger of the past as we immerse ourselves in the productive growing of the present.
© 1985, Winifred Wilkinson Hausmann
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.