I personally think about things in a very black and white way. Or good vs. bad, healthy vs. unhealthy, and all or nothing. I would even think about my emotions in the same context. There are “good” emotions that I’m supposed to feel and “bad” emotions I should not. If I’m anything but perfect and happy, then I’m feeling a bad emotion and I need to avoid it. But avoiding emotions doesn’t actually make them go away. Avoiding usually makes emotions even more intense than they may be if one feels them in the moment they occur. And in the avoidance of uncomfortable emotions, one also misses out on the good feelings of love, joy, and happiness.
All emotions are functional and important. Emotions are messages sent by the brain to influence your thoughts and behaviors. Sadness let’s you know that something important has happened and you need to take care of yourself and refuel. Anger says something unfair has happened against your values, rights, or safety. Anxiety prepares us for the future, like anticipating a big exam or presentation. All emotions are important and drive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that even guilt has a function. It is important. Guilt isn’t bad. I used to get caught up in the feeling of guilt because I interpreted it as me not able to do good, to do enough, unable to control a situation. Guilt left me feeling useless and helpless. And as a person who finds her worth in helping others, I felt worthless. After repetitively feeling like I couldn’t make things good, I started to question if I am even good. All of the compounding guilt morphed into shame. And it became overwhelming.
When one feels guilt, it is simply the brain sending a message that something wrong has happened and you need to fix it or make it better. But I am an empath, so when I see someone do something wrong, I personally want to fix it. I see that someone has been hurt, broken, or torn down and I feel for them so deeply. I see wrong has been done to them and I want to make it right. I want to build people up, help them, and to fix the situation. I began to take responsibility for every human being’s happiness. Which is an impossible and unrealistic goal.
Because bad things happen. Every moment of every day, terrible, awful, horrific things happen. And my brain is screaming at me that if I can’t make them right, then I’m failing. I need to fix them. I need to right all of the wrongs. But I can’t do this. And as a result I feel helpless, useless, and out of control.
But I realize now that maybe guilt doesn’t have to define me that way. Maybe.. Guilt is actually good and useful. I can see that what drives my guilt is empathy, love for others, and a passion to bring good to this world.
I will never be able to make things perfect for others for myself. That is impossible. And that isn’t my fault. If I can bring light and joy to as many as I can, then that is enough. I’m a good person. I deserve good. My guilt is telling me that I am good and I want good for others.
And I can’t find this good if I get caught up or stuck in the bad, the pain, and the problems.