Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: I wake up every morning with negative thoughts. They could be past incidences of things I have done, even as a small child. I know that it's in the past, but the negative thoughts still come out of nowhere. How can I stop this thought pattern? Also, I have been on a more spiritual journey (thanks to you!) over the past few years and now know my parenting skills were not positive for my three children (they are now adults). I always wanted to make them into something that they weren't, and I can see they have suffered from my actions. I have much guilt from this. How can I get over feeling horrible and at the same time show them that I am sorry I wasn't there for them?
— Karen C., Decatur, Alabama
Many readers will sympathize with you and are walking the same path. Guilt and negativity are unresolved issues in the mind. They come from the past; they can be deep or shallow; they may be trying to tell you something or could be little more than pain. You cannot get rid of such feelings by stopping them or plucking them out the way you'd take a rock out of your shoe.
Any negativity in the mind must be worked through. The following stages are involved:
You face the negativity without shrinking or cringing.
You listen to what the negativity wants to tell you. You assess what you hear.
You get to the stage where you understand and at the same time feel what is inside you.
You send the negativity away and resolve it.
You atone with others as needed.
You celebrate and accept a self that no longer needs this particular bit of negativity.
All these stages involve one thing: Self-awareness. Right now, you are aware of being in pain. You are playing the role of the patient, and what we want is for you to learn the role of the physician. Self-inflicted hurt can be self-healed (this isn't discounting outside helpers, but studies indicate that 75 percent of positive change is self-help).
The big difference between the patient and the doctor is objectivity. Instead of focusing on how guilty you are and how much you deserve your pain, stand back and be objective. If a good friend came to you with the same guilt you feel right now, what would you tell your friend to do? Don't aim in the dark. Don't offer a big answer to make your friend go away. Be the doctor, and go through the checklist given above. There is something to do at every level.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. You will need to return to each step until your issues are resolved. This requires patience and serious attention. But I can assure you that unbearable pain can be lessened and submits to healing intentions. You are more than your hurt. You have a core self that is free from guilt and wants to help you get rid of your psychological burdens. Finding that core self and accepting its help is the point behind each step I have outlined. With that vision in mind, you can make progress day by day.
One final thought: I wouldn't jump into atonement with your children until you feel that you have made significant progress on your own. Thrashing out your guilt with the ones who have grudges against you is rarely a good thing. It often reopens old wounds. Use atonement at a later stage when you feel stronger and more healed. Self-forgiveness always comes first.