Day 373: Guilt (and a metaphor I made up!)

Last year, I wrote about “The Oxygen Mask Metaphor,” which is way to remind people who focus too much on other people’s needs that their needs are important, too.

I use that metaphor a lot in therapy because … it helps.

Yesterday, I used a new metaphor, which has this advantage over the other one: I made this metaphor up. It’s mine! (Hmmm, at this point, I’m thinking: This post might turn out to be just one big brag.*)

Here’s the set-up:

Yesterday, in therapy, the topic of guilt came up (as it often does). (The topic of guilt comes up in this blog, too, like here and here.)  And somebody said, “I feel guilty, all the time.”

I said, “All the time?  Really?  Are you feeling guilty right now?” **

She paused, thought, and replied, “Yes, I am. A little.”

We talked about how people can get stuck in emotional responses. (Something I wrote about, in another way, in yesterday’s post.) And then I came up with the metaphor:

Do you know how when the engine light in your car first comes on, your automatic first response is this: There’s something wrong with my car!  I have to pay attention to this, now!  And then, after you’ve owned cars for a while, you figure out that the engine light probably means nothing serious. And yet, when it lights up, it gets your attention, and it’s hard to ignore.

In case you don’t know what an engine light is — and to grab this opportunity to include an image — here are some examples:


I confess, I came up with that metaphor yesterday because … my engine light has been coming on lately. Yes, the friggin’ engine light comes on periodically, and my mechanic and I talk about it. At this point, we both believe it’s nothing serious.

But whenever that engine light is on, it nags at me. I feel like there’s something wrong.

When I came up with that metaphor yesterday, I brought it up tentatively … because you never know if somebody else’s experience matches your own. I mean, it’s possible this person:

  1. Never had an engine light go on.
  2. HAS had an engine light go on, and it DID mean something serious.
  3. Has never owned a car.

But, lo and behold, the metaphor worked like a charm. She totally got it. And she understood my point (and I did have one):  guilt, if it’s coming on all the time, might be like the engine light — automatically attention-getting and alarming, but something you might want to learn to ignore, when appropriate.

She found that metaphor so useful, she wanted to remember it, so I gave her a prescription for it. (See here, for more about that.) (Boy, this post IS turning into one big brag. *)

So how do I want to end this brag-y post, today?

Just to tell you this: When I got up this morning, I figured I would write about this topic, because — honestly, people — I’m pretty proud of that metaphor.  But I didn’t really feel like writing about that, or much of anything else.

And then I asked myself this question: Do I feel guilty, about anything?

And the answer was this: “Yes, I do. A little.”

And I noticed that, and turned my attention to other things.


Thanks to those who use and learn from metaphors, people whose engine lights have come on for any reason, and to you — naturally! — for visiting today.

* About what a cool therapist I am.

** An old friend of mine tells this story: When we were in our 20’s, she said to me, “I bite the inside of my mouth all the time.”  I said, “Really?  Are you biting it right now?”  Apparently, my keen methods of therapeutic interrogation haven’t developed all that much.

*** I’m not giving any attributions for these images, because I don’t think anybody is going to have a sense of ownership about them. And if they do, I’ll apologize and make amends, without any you-know-what. ****

**** Guilt, if you didn’t guess.

Categories: humor, inspiration, personal growth, Uncategorized | 43 Comments

Post navigation

43 thoughts on “Day 373: Guilt (and a metaphor I made up!)

  1. Love it! And not braggy at all — just you standing in your light and shining for all to see there is a path to joy — it’s right there in front of them if they just let go of fixing there eyes on…. guilt! or their engine light… 🙂

  2. Ha, this is great…a perfect metaphor and yes you would be a great therapist! Cheers and hope you’re keeping warm.

  3. Great post and great metaphor!

  4. Now what would metaphor would we arrive at from me having put a piece of tape over the little ‘check engine’ light on my car so I don’t have to see the bloody thing anymore and because I don’t feel like paying the $100 to my mechanic to disable the damn light so it will stop pestering me?

    perhaps; Kenneth you like to hide from your problems?


    • I have no judgment about what that creative and resourceful solution means, Kenneth. You are the expert of your own experience.

      Pardon me while I look for some duct tape.

  5. That is an outstanding metaphor for any little nagging thought, not just guilt, Ann. Although, now that I think about it, what is a nagging thought but feeling guilt. Yes. A little. Good luck figuring out your current check engine light dilemma with your mechanic. It is not fun driving in the Northeast winter waiting for the real problem to surface. When the mechanic fixes the problem — and I don’t mean disabling the engine light bulb — he deserves to be a bit braggy, considering the overall state of check engine lights.

    • Hey, Mark! My theory is that the problem is related to my gas cap (how tightly it’s been closed , how low I let the gas get in my car). I’m sure when I bring my car in for its annual inspection soon, my mechanic and I will have another in a series of discussions about this.

      Thanks for this outstanding and real comment.

  6. Love the post and metaphor. Feeling guilty has its uses, it is just that some people have too much and others too little of it. Finding the perfect balance is not easy.

  7. Love the post and metaphor, there should be more of them. It’s a strange realisation that so many people only show so much of themselves to others. I wonder if there is such a great need to ‘hide’ or if it is a deeply embedded survival technique? Loved the Oxygen Mask metaphor too. 🙂 Just a thought. Bless Susan x

  8. Definitely a great metaphor. Could apply to so many things we let preoccupy us, and guilt is certainly a big one.

  9. Well said! I used to have a car like that. I currently have a conscience like that.
    I’m going to put this in my pocket and carry it with me. Thank you!

  10. Love this post, and that metaphor. You’re not being brag-y at all!

  11. Fantastic post. I do understand what you mean about those annoying lights that come on and are sometimes best to be acknowledged and then ignored. I have a few that come on (despair, fear etc), I look at them, say ‘are you here again’ and then walk away from them on to my day.
    Thanks for the post and the metaphors. Love them

    • Elizabeth! So great to see you. Thank you for this truly fantastic comment. I love your response to those annoying lights.

  12. I hope you don’t feel guilty about liking your metaphor and saying so.

  13. Great post and I didn’t think it was braggy! I think I’ll have to use this metaphore myself. 🙂

  14. It wasn’t braggy at all. Your metaphor is simple (lots of people can relate to it ) and effective . I love reading your posts . 🙂

    I have one question though (if I sound weird or out of context plz forgive me ) .You talked about 3 possibilities what if there is a fourth possibility i.e, There was a serious situation and his/her engine light didn’t warn about the real danger .

    How will that person react in future ?

    • I noticed how you reassured me that I wasn’t braggy, and then you wondered if you were being “weird or out of context.” Well, mk, your question wasn’t weird or out of context at all. Your question was simple, effective, insightful, and much appreciated.

      There ARE some people who are at the other end of the spectrum, whose warning lights (feelings and/or their conscience) don’t come on. And, how will somebody like that react? There’s variation there, too, depending upon the person and the situation. But the result can be dangerous, for sure (just as it might be with a car with no warning lights, too).

      What a great question! Thanks so much.

  15. Pingback: Day 374: We’re doing the best we can | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

  16. LizzeeBuff

    I don’t drive… Never have but I got your metaphor!

    It reminded me of the big bang theory when Sheldon is always telling penny that her check engine light is on… And she’s just like “it’s always on” with out a care in the world lol.

    • Oh! I never watch that show. I wonder if people will think I stole it from there. I’ll try to be like Penny, I guess, without a care in the world about that.

      Thanks for this great comment.

      • LizzeeBuff

        You’re very welcome! I enjoyed your post! 🙂

  17. I love this and will definitely keep it in mind whenever my recurring guilt complex rears its ugly head. After a lifetime of dealing with my traditional Italian family — where guilt is virtually a form of currency — I definitely need a good reminder that I can’t let it alarm me or take over my day.

  18. Pingback: Day 376: It’s A Raggy Post | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

  19. Pingback: Day 377: Free-floating, re-sticking anxiety (The _ Metaphor) | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

  20. Pingback: Day 675: Eyes | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

  21. Pingback: Day 1199: Guilt | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: