Have you ever cleaned out your purse or messenger bag or carry-on luggage and found a little piece of old candy you forgot about?
Maybe it was a cellophane-wrapped sugar candy or a lollipop. Maybe it was a broken piece of holiday Candy Cane, or a piece of gum sitting so long on the bottom, the sugary goo had bled through the paper itself. It makes you wonder: Why didn’t I just eat this and get it out of the way when I took it? Why have I been carrying around this yucky little thing for so long without even realizing it?
Well, I think we all do the same thing with our emotional experiences, too. Sometimes, we experience something that makes us feel so embarrassed or guilty or full of shame, that we hold onto it like an old butterscotch.
We carry that guilt like candy left to sit and get sticky in our emotional brains, collecting dust bunnies from the corners of our heart for no good reason at all. I call that “guilt candy” and it’s time we cleaned out our emotional pocketbooks of them once and for all.
Sometimes, we experience something that makes us feel so embarrassed or guilty or full of shame, that we hold onto it like an old butterscotch.
Let me explain by telling you about the old piece of guilt candy I’ve carried around too long.
When I was a kid, I went to visit the offices of Newsday with my Dad, Ken Spencer, who worked as a feature photographer for the paper for over three decades. On our tour through the building, I was shown the newsroom, the paper machines and I got to meet some of the writers. The real actual newspaper writers! It was one of the most exciting and memorable days of my childhood. Yet there is one conversation I’ll never forget—for a strange reason.
One writer was showing me his desk and his computer (very likely a Commodore Vic 20 at the time). And, oh, I was in absolute awe as he showed me how he typed up his stories on his computer. I couldn’t believe my eyes when he showed me how he pulled down the “Print” screen. And how, with one press of a button, his story would be sent to the printer. With just a few seconds pause, the writer walked us across the room, twenty desks away, and up to the printer. “And here,” he said, pulling his article from the printer , “is the story we just printed.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“That’s it?” I said, in awe that with just one tiny press of the “Return” button, those words on his screen were being somehow sent fifty paces across the room. Just one button!
“That’s it?” said the writer. “Gosh, what does it take to impress you?”
He was joking and laughing as he said it, and I was too confused by his laughter to get what he found so funny. But a few minutes later it finally hit me what he meant. That when I said “That’s it” I meant “One press of a button?! That’s all it took to get it here?!” But when I said “That’s it” he thought I meant, “Really, that’s all ya got?”
I was so young and shy and didn’t want to correct him that I let him joke and then carried on with the tour. And I spent the rest of the day feeling bad that he misunderstood me. Actually, it wasn’t just the rest of the day. I have carried that small, silly misunderstanding with me for thirty years. For thirty years, I have wished I could tell him that wasn’t what I meant, that he misunderstood, that I was blown away!
It has stuck with me in the strangest way, being misunderstood and mistaken for being ungrateful. But you know what’s funny? I’ll bet that if I was able to mention this to him today, he’d probably say, “I took you on a tour of what?” I couldn’t be more sure he has no recollection of it at all.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Carry around little old pieces of guilt candy that the other people in our lives haven’t even registered as a blip on the radar?
Check in with yourself and clear out your own old pieces of guilt candy. Trust me, it feels good to get it out and take the first step in letting it go.