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Effectively Respond to Guilt and THE BERRY PICKERS by Amanda Peters

Cover of the book The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters used to teach ways to effectively respond to guilt.

When Joe was six and his sister Ruthie was four, Ruthie was kidnapped. Joe was the last person to see Ruthie before she was taken. For decades, Joe took responsibility for her disappearance and wondered what he could have done differently. To avoid his emotions (and physical discomfort from a later accident), Joe drank. His judgment was problematic, and his temper was quick to flare. In what seemed like the start of a new chapter, Joe met and married a loving woman he had initially treated with care and respect. Before long, though, Joe got drunk and angry and hurt his wife. Unable to correct his destructive behaviors and suffering from immense guilt, Joe fled in a self-imposed exile.


Guilt is an emotional response people experience when they perceive themselves to have misbehaved. Sometimes, mistakes or misdeeds happen, and guilt is appropriate and earned. Other times, people feel guilty even when their behaviors are unproblematic. 


Joe feels guilt both for situations where he did nothing wrong (Ruthie’s disappearance when he was the last one to see her) and for objective misdeeds (harming his wife). But, he responds to both guilt-inducing situations in unhealthy and counterproductive ways.


Here are tips to effectively respond to guilt.


Check the Facts: When you experience guilt, identify the activating event and analyze your responsibility. Uncovering if your guilt is a proportional response from a misdeed or an overreaction will help you healthily respond.


If You Caused the Problem: Apologize and change your ways! Show that you understand your wrongdoings by verbalizing regret and behaving differently. Others may or may not forgive you, but you can still harness the redemptive power of guilt by learning and growing from the experience.


If Your Guilt Is Disproportionate: Reflect on the situation and specifically attend to the factors in and out of your control. Consider whether you hold yourself to unrealistically high standards. If so, redefine the expectations you have for yourself.


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