During the period leading up to Rosh Hashanah we are instructed to reflect on the past year and prepare for an improved future. The problem is that reflecting on the past sometimes arouses feelings of guilt. Now guilt is a complex emotion. While it ignites a desire for change, it can also be a destructive force.

Is there good and bad guilt?

Complacency is perhaps the strongest force that stands in the way of true growth. If we feel totally comfortable with who and where we are, there is no need to change. If we cannot recognize any deficiency in our personality, there will never be a necessity for behavior modification. If we are never guilty, we will be indifferent, apathetic and resistant to any improvement.

The more uncomfortable we are with our level of performance the more we are driven to changeA critical ingredient, therefore, for personal growth and real change, is an intense feeling of discomfort. The more uncomfortable we are with our level of performance the more we are driven to change. The more we regret having hurt the feelings of another, the harder we will work to make up. The more remorse we have for our transgressions, the deeper our resolve to improve will be. If we are really unhappy with our outbursts of anger and aggression, we will have a strong desire to control ourselves. A healthy dose of guilt is not only helpful but critical for personal development

But guilt in its extreme can be very destructive and debilitating, preventing us from moving forward. Intense guilt can affect our performance, leaving us with depression, shame and despair. It can damage our feelings of self worth, convincing us that we are intrinsically evil. We can start to believe that we are unable to change and that any attempt to improve will be unsuccessful.

The test to know if our feelings of guilt are beneficial or destructive is to ask a simple question: Who is in control? Are we in control of our guilt or does it control us? Controlling guilt means having the ability to allow a healthy dose of remorse to enter our minds and hearts - enough to create a real desire to rectify and improve. However, as soon as we are committed to change we need to dismiss the guilt and move on with confidence and strength. We move forward with the conviction and belief that G‑d always welcomes our positive deeds no matter how much we may have failed in the past. We recognize that our soul has infinite good that can always be accessed and used to reconnect and rectify that which needs fixing. Guilt should only be a temporary guest to get us started. It is not welcome to stay and eat away at our confidence.

Guilt is like a powerful electric saw. If you control it, it can be used to build and repair. If you lose control it can hurt yourself and damage others. Get in control and learn how to use guilt as an effective tool for personal growth.