Eliminating Guilt For Nothing

by Kalliope Barlis

One of my clients felt guilty about things she didn't do and things she did do. It was time for her to change her guilty feelings. To start, she wanted to feel good about the things she felt bad about, both currently and in the past. Because we NLP'ers make change progressive, we pace the client into the future to ensure the change remains. 

The client started off by saying, "I feel guilty about so many things I haven't done wrong". I replied, "I guess that means you feel guilty for even saying that-I don't know for what, but you probably are. That just makes sense." She laughed and said, "No, it's not like that."

"So, what's it like to feel guilty for something you haven't done?" I asked.

"Well, she began, "if I've said something and the person listening to me looks at me a certain way, like angry, I feel guilty."
With that, I contorted my body, my hands reaching up and forward, froze, crossed my eyes, and then said with distorted speech, "You mean like this?" My intention was to exaggerate how an angry-looking person imposing guilt would look, who also looks really stupid doing it. She said, "Oh, come on, no, not like that."

"Then how do you know they're angry?" I asked. "I don't know," she replied. "It's just a feeling. Sometimes it's all in my head."

"How do you know the difference?" I probed. "Because I ask the person, and they say I'm crazy, of course jokingly, for thinking that I did something wrong." I then asked, "How much time does it take you from the time you feel guilty to the time you ask the person?" "It depends," she replied. "Depends is the name of an adult diaper, " I quipped. "How much time does depends mean for you?"
She laughed and said, "Depending on the other person."
"So this can take hours to months," I concluded. 
"No, no. Hours to a couple of days."

"How frequently does this happen?" "I can't tell you," she replied. "It depends." I had the sudden feeling that I was in the old Abbott & Costello skit "Who's on First?" You know, the one that goes "Who's on first, what's on second, and I don't know is on third." Humoring myself, I wondered, Well, who the fuck is IT and why does it always depend? Okay, I'm guilty of my attention not being in complete uptime, but it was just for a split moment and was a good way to maintain a rapport. 
I said, "At this point, that's a lot of depends. It sure must stink when you feel guilty!"

The client and I both had a belly-aching laugh at that, then she said, "I feel guilty once a day." "Is it about the same thing or different things?" I asked. "It's different." 
"So you feel guilty about something different every day?" To this, she replied yes, then I asked, "How many minutes a day do you feel guilty? 
When she told me that it was a couple of minutes to many hours a day and that it had been going on since she could remember, I told her, "That's a lot of time. Think of all the things you can be doing instead of feeling guilty about the things you haven't done. What do you think would happen if you start thinking about all the things you feel good about that you haven't done yet?"

She looked at me while processing the question, and I went on, "If you were to pile up all the things you felt guilty about, how high would it be?"
She said, "Huge high." 
I said, "How high is huge high?"
She said, "Himalaya high"
"That's fuckin' high," I said. "By the way, you would be high at the height of the Himalayas. I know, I've been there. I had to take in a deep breath with every step. It was a step-by-step process just walking. But I hear that's normally how people walk anyway. Some people got so high, they didn't make it. They collapsed much like we're about to do, but in better ways. Now that you see all the guilt piled up high, Himalaya high, what happens when it all crumbles down in front of you?"
"It's just a bunch of flattened debris," she said. 

"And how does this make you feel now?"
"It loses its power," she concluded.
"And now that it has lost power, think about this; if the purpose of guilt is to remember what not to do again and you haven't done anything harmful to anyone, then what's the purpose of feeling guilty?" 

The look on her face revealed a new awareness of her behavior and shift in submodalities. "None," she replied.
I then asked, "Now, when you think of all the times you felt guilty, how would you rather feel?" And she replied, ""Innocent." 
"Are there times in your life when you sense innocence?" 
"Now, sense the innocence, and what I want you to do is go back to the leveled bits of the pile and fill it in with innocence. What happens to these times that you once felt guilty?" 
She said, "Not as bad."

"Now take the pile and fill it up with even more innocence. Watch the land below the pile open, while the whole pile just crumbles beneath the level ground, and bury it. Top it with soil. How do you feel now?"
She said, "Okay." 

Next, I instructed her to do the following: "Close your eyes. Sense your innocence. Now, go to moments before the first time you felt guilty about something you didn't do. Double your sense of innocence, and in just a moment, I'm going to ask you to step into this event, sensing your innocence within this event. Now, go step into it. Look around and sense how different you feel, see things, and hear things. Now, move forward toward the present, noticing how every event following and related to that one event is already changing as you move into the present moment. Now look back at that first event and all the ones between that one and now, and notice how all the events related to that first one have now already changed in light of the new learnings and understandings of your innocence throughout all of these times. Sense how good you feel good now.

"And, as you look into the future, you can see the first time someone looks at you in that certain way that it's just their way, while you're innocence is your own way now, too. Three . . . four . . . five, open your eyes.
"Now, when you think of the things that used to make you feel guilty, how different do you feel?"
"It's almost gone," she said.
For some minutes, we talked about some other stuff, totally different from doing something stupid. She had enough of that for a lifetime, it appeared, so I thought it was a good idea to distract her for a few moments into areas where she felt smart; there were plenty of times she did.

"One more thing," I said. "Close your eyes. Think of a time you laughed so hard your belly ached. Laugh and laugh and laugh-ah ha ha ha! Now, look into the future moments when you see people looking at you the way they do, and just laugh and laugh and laugh, ah ha ha ha! Oh, there goes another one the next day, and the next, into the years, and laugh and laugh and laugh, ah ha ha ha! And the day following that, ah ha ha ha! That's right. Now, just sit for a few moments while all of you feels good. . . . Open your eyes. . . . Now, when you look at that pile of guilt that's buried, what happens?"
"I can't find it," she said. 

The client had a distorted belief because she had a deleted sense of innocence and a generalized sense of guilt for all things she was innocent of. She has been mind-reading people's facial expressions on a daily basis to her detriment throughout her past. Above all, she was missing a sense of humor for the times people looked at her a certain way. Laughter releases stupidity. Along with submodalities, one of the greatest skills Richard Bandler has taught us is that laughter weakens the chains of the free.
We quantified her time by summing up all the time she wasted in the past thinking something stupid. Throughout all of the banter between her and me, we were collapsing her anchors of guilt and building in new anchors of innocence, then flooding the brain with humor, building in new brain juice for now and future situations. On every level, submodalities were changed, thus changing how she now feels when she notices a person's facial expression, freeing up hours to do things that are more useful while becoming a smarter person. 
She wanted to feel good and innocent during the times that it was useful for her to feel this way. This was the language she used. Because that's what she wanted, it was my responsibility as the NLP Practitioner to go into an equivalent state-that being the change she wanted within her. Based on this, it was also most useful for me to sense the change within her before she'd had it. One brain leads the other into freedom.