Q. How can I get over my feelings of guilt?
A. You can’t, whether the guilt is genuine or you are masochistically punishing yourself. The real question is how you face up to your guilt and live with it. The best way is to try to make amends, preferably without a song and dance, but that’s not always possible.
What is always possible is to use the guilt constructively instead of obsessing, recognising where you went wrong (or think you did) and using that knowledge to do right.
If you sinned with your words, use your mouth to speak positively to and about other people. If you sinned with your feet, maybe by going to places where you shouldn’t have been, use your feet to walk towards good causes, to keep company with good people. If you sinned with your money, become a generous supporter of those who need help. If you sinned against God, try to listen more attentively to His Word.
If you sinned against your own better self, don’t tear yourself apart by minimising your self-worth. Say to yourself, “I am fundamentally a decent person; I can and will pick myself up and do better in future”.
It is said that when Jacob Epstein was a boy he crushed a bird to death in his hands. Using his shame and guilt constructively he used his hands to become a famous sculptor and to be Sir Jacob Epstein.
This Ask the Rabbi is adapted from a chapter in Rabbi Apple’s book, Eighty Days and Eighty Nights: Wise Words for Everyday. Click here for more information and to purchase a copy.