The other day, a friend had installed a fire alarm system in her house. She is a fan of baking but is learning new techniques and approaches for baking dishes. She wanted to make sure that any of her experimental kitchen mess-ups wouldn’t cause untoward fire incidents.

Coincidently, on the second day after installation, it rang violently. She had left a dish too long in the oven. The smoke rose to her alarm device on the ceiling and was activated to create a loud piercing sound until she deactivated it.

I started to reflect on the way alarm detectors work. It struck me that we too have internal alarm systems within us that get triggered from time to time. One of the triggers is guilt which wreaks havoc within our psyche.

Our alarm system is like the moral compass we use to navigate our actions and even thoughts. However, a deviation in the needle’s movement can create a sense of guilt. After that, what one does depends on their capabilities of managing this extreme sense of contrition.

Dealing with the fiery triggers of guilt

When you take an action that clashes with your moral compass, guilt triggers a response. This “fire” could be anything from a small lie to a broken promise, a missed opportunity to help someone, or even an action that unintentionally caused harm.

Furthermore, just like a smoke detector’s shrill sound, guilt manifests under a range of unpleasant emotions. These emotions can include remorse, regret, anxiety, or shame. These triggers become a core part of the internal alarm system, urging you to acknowledge the situation and take action.

“Guilt is a waste of time. It doesn’t change the past, and it doesn’t improve the future. Learn from it and let go.”

~Wayne Dyer

When we journey through life carrying the burden of guilt, it can cause us to pay a heavy price. The price we pay is not worth the baggage. However, there are several factors attached to it. Guilt can trigger your moral compass while it can also spiral you into depression if you don’t keep it in check. Indeed, mistakes are made, errors of our human ways that cannot be un-erased or undone. The question is what now, what next?

“The purpose of guilt is not to punish, but to improve.”

~The Dalai Lama

The purpose of a smoke detector is to alert you to potential danger. It is there to motivate you to block out the fire before it captures you and your house completely. Similarly, guilt motivates you to rectify the situation of your actions or inactions. This might involve apologizing, making amends, or simply reflecting on your actions to avoid repeating them.

You don’t have to continue feeling guilty with no clarity of the future. The action was done and now you can’t undo it. Embrace the fact of moving on, not with forgetfulness, but with awareness of your situation.

The Dragon Beast: “Call her.”

Elodie’s father: “Elodie. Can you hear me? I have made a horrible, horrible mistake. To sacrifice the one thing I love the most. To trade your life for the good of my people. I thought that I could take the gold. That I could live with myself. My choice. But, I can’t, I can’t.”

Elodie is the daughter of a king in a faraway land in a movie called Damsel. Her father’s kingdom was suffering from starvation for a long time which drove the king to take an unthinkable, impatient, and vicious step. He tricked his daughter into getting married to a prince of a wealthy kingdom to receive the monetary help needed to help his kingdom thrive.

However, Elodie had yet to discover that the new kingdom had deadly secrets of its own.

Caught in the middle of it, innocent Elodie was tricked into being sacrificed to a fire-breathing dragon who was lurking in the dungeons of her husband’s kingdom. Her father knowingly put her into a fatal situation so that he could get more gold to save the people of his kingdom but later greatly regretted it. Thus, he returns to his son-in-law’s kingdom secretly to save his daughter from the dragon and rid himself of the guilt that burdened him day and night.

Right before being killed by the dragon, Elodie’s father does what he can to save his daughter.

The dragon beast: “Last chance.”

Elodie’s father: “Elodie. Hear me. I am your father. You will obey me. I order you.” screaming for his daughter, his last words were, “Don’t come out!”.

Struck by the dragon, the father was killed.

Her father had to pay for his guilt with his life. Hopefully, this does not have to happen with anyone as long as they take the right steps under the influence of the right decision.

Flip The Guilt Trip

So, how does one manage the guilt that tugs at the heart’s strings? Any decisions to make from now on will require an approach that prevents one from feeling shame.

This is where the primary and secondary status of a person arises. This approach will help transform the one-way guilt lane into a two-way street of primary and secondary.

In any given situation, if you make a decision but are afraid of regretting it or feeling guilty about the outcome, use the primary and secondary status approach. Then think and identify the person you want to treat as primary.

The primary status refers to the one who will give or offer value while the secondary person will receive that value or benefit.

For instance, in the situation of a leader who fires an employee due to budget cuts. Guilt often affects the leader and their conscious decision. Alas, many companies these days have had to take this step. In these times, it is necessary to dwell on how one wants to manage the situation – from the perspective of the primary and secondary status.

After letting go of the employees, can specific ways be adopted to help the employee land another job? Can they be given severance pay to sustain them?

On the other hand, one has to manage their existing guilt for several reasons for any situation or event. It may feel like the action of error cannot be undone. Suddenly, guilt seems like a one-way lane but looking forward to mending one’s ways can help convert it into a two-way street. You can flip your guilt trip.

You may not be able to do anything for the person you couldn’t help years ago but today; you may be in a better position to help people struggling with similar challenges. There are many ways to improve and come out of guilt and not let it control you and your decisions.

Therefore, guilt is not entirely bad unless you allow it to spiral into an uncontrollable, spiteful act of self-pity.

Remember that guilt can make you go in circles to a time that can never be brought back. So, always make the effort to rope in the approach of the primary and secondary status in such situations.

Back to December -Taylor Swift

We small talk, work and the weather

Your guard is up and I know why

Because the last time you saw me

Is still burned in the back of your mind

You gave me roses and I left them there to die

So this is me swallowing my pride

Standin’ in front of you sayin’ I’m sorry for that night

And I go back to December all the time

It turns out freedom ain’t nothin’ but missin’ you

Wishin’ I’d realized what I had when you were mine

I’d go back to December, turn around and make it alright

I go back to December all the time

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