Coaching Insights #1 The transformational power of guilt

Transformational power of guilt

This is a blog post for coaches, facilitators, change agents, healers – anyone in the business of working with people. These reflections are my personal insights from supervision.

If you know me, you’ll know I love swimming in the depths of emotions.  I trust the power and transformation that arises from this place within us.

Like the promise of a new dawn as the sun rises, I know that a deep dive into grief has the power to heal.  I understand that our full expression of anger can create new levels of trust and intimacy; and when the true root of fear is discovered, I have witnessed it lead to greater courage and bravery.

Alongside this, I also trust that being able to feel and express what might be described as ‘difficult’ emotions, allows us to connect more to our desired feelings, such as peace, happiness, joy and excitement.

So it’s always been a wonder to me that I didn’t really ‘get’ guilt. Not that I didn’t feel it, I certainly recognize it in myself, although it’s not my default place in the way I have seen with some of my clients over the years.

I just struggled to understand it.

For me as a coach guilt has always been a tricky emotion to help my clients reconcile. Deep down I didn’t really see the point of guilt. All of my other favourite feelings seemed to have a transformational aspect to them. From jealously love could arise. From dispair hope could be born. From rage peace could emerge. But guilt? I couldn’t see any transformation that would come from this feeling. Clients would just go around and around in circles feeling guilty. It seemed to be a stick to beat themselves with, that had no way out. Surely guilt is pointless?

However, I know myself well enough to know that the places I struggle to support my clients are simply signposts for new learning.

As a result I’ve become a self confessed geek when it comes to unanswerable questions! Truthfully I’ve been mulling on the question of guilt for nearly a decade with no answer emerging. I kind of enjoy enquiry with no answer. Letting the question unravel over time.

Leaving space for insight to emerge when the time is right.

That time came recently. As I’ve already said I’m geek, so I can also confess it felt like I hit the jackpot!

A gem of an insight appeared in supervision. I was getting some help with a client case where a daughter felt deep guilt in relation to a situation with her mother.

I just don’t get it I proclaimed! What’s the point of guilt?

We dug into the question. He asked me what I thought, and I said it seemed to arise if I or a client thought we had done something wrong.

Then came the jackpot.

It’s more than that he said,

“Guilt arises when someone is concerned that society will disapprove of their actions.”

I could feel the alignment shift inside. The hidden gem has revealed itself. Of course!

I remembered watching the film the Suffragettes recently. Although we had studied this period of history closely at school, when I watched the movie I learned for the first time how much guilt and shame there was associated to the women’s suffrage movement.

It was a time when most women in the UK were wedded to their husbands for their own personal security. Because their rights were so limited they required their husbands to provide for them. In many ways their lives depended on marriage at that time.

So when the Suffragettes went against their husbands, their employers, their friends, neighbours and government to stand for what they believed in the guilt ran deep. They were highly disapproved of by society. More than that the dispparoval had consequences. Neighbours, who at that time were pivotal to each other’s day to day survival, shunned the women who spoke up. Husbands became estranged through fear of losing their reputation and their employment. The media rarely even wrote about the movement as a way to demonstrate how ostriscised these women were from society.

I have come to understand that at the heart of guilt is a fear of rejection from individuals, community or society.

Then I can see the transformational power of guilt.  New ways I can explore this emotion with my client’s.  New questions which can now be asked.

Questions like…
  • What do you believe the consequences of your choice might be?
  • What are you worried you will lose as a result?
  • What social convention are you conforming to?
  • How does that rule fit for you?
  • What would your life be without that convention?
  • Can you live without it?
  • Who or what might you lose if you did?

As my enquiry continues, I’m left wondering, what if we could let go of what we think we should be doing, and be bold enough to be true to who we are and what we believe?

Then guilt has the power to create freedom.

And like the women’s suffrage movement, I believe we are all seeking freedom to one degree or another.

With love,





PS Please do let me know your reflections in the comments box below, I do really enjoy hearing from you.

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