Q: I am feeling bad. The other night our 13-year-old daughter broke curfew.
She wouldn’t admit to it, but I am fairly certain that she was at a house party with some older kids and that all of them were fooling around with alcohol and marijuana.
You know, with all of the COVID stuff going around and schools closing down, or at least threatening to do so, I simply do not need more problems from our daughter riding the edge of honesty and integrity.
The truth is that I lost it. Our daughter broke curfew and she needed to have a consequence, but she did not need to be subjected to the attacks that I blew at her. I was screaming and shouting and calling her whatever names I could find and it was awful.
I felt bad by the next morning and I apologized as much as I could but it is not working. I am loaded with guilt.
She should not have come in late and I should not have blown my stack. But I did and now I need to figure out a way to get myself back on track.
I am looking for some direction. It is simple. How do I get rid of my guilt?
A: To be honest, I think that you are struggling with a common problem. Any number of people, in your neighborhood, your community and your family, are caught up in guilt, or to put it more specifically, in vain attempts to get rid of their guilt.
We seem to live in a culture and in a time when guilt is considered detrimental to the human condition. People all over are taking pills to get rid of it, either that or they are engaging in unusual meditation or spending hours in therapy with a licensed mental health counsellor.
That may be helpful to encourage everyone to lead healthier and more productive lives, but I doubt it succeeds in its first goal. It does not get rid of the guilt.
The problem is that guilt is a normal and natural personal condition. It ranks up there with hunger, pain, smell and the existential search for meaning.
Obviously, some guilt is detrimental and needs to be curbed. The guilt that attaches to people when someone close dies is not helpful and may, in fact, deter the grieving person from working through the loss.
But other guilt is helpful. It is almost like nature’s way of saying you messed up and that you probably need to do something about it.
In your case for example, you should talk to your daughter and, without depreciating your parental dignity, let her know that you messed up and are sorry for it.
The next step is to do something about it. Your daughter is likely to make other mistakes in judgment over the next couple years. You are going to have to talk to her about them. You can talk to her with the firm conviction of a caring parent without screaming and shouting, and still get your message across to her. You will have learned from your guilt and that will be better for everyone.
Perhaps if you live and learn from your moment of guilt you will, by example, teach your daughter to do the same.
All of us make mistakes and from time to time all of us feel guilty.
When we start to relax and learn to breathe deeply while we are in the midst of the self-inflicted guilt punishment, we can learn to build more sensitivity and become more respectable and caring. That is a wonderful message to send to your daughter.