Feeling Guilty? The Role Guilt Plays in Our Lives and How to Relieve it.
1. the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability: He admitted his guilt.
2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
Just a Feeling
Based on both the first and second definition of guilt above, one can see how guilt effects us immensely; from the tiniest to the largest infraction. I won't be discussing anything about guilty verdicts in court or guilty versus innocent in terms of the law. The judicial system isn't perfect! I'm talking about basic run-of-the-mill feelings of guilt, possibly put on by ourselves or family or anybody close to us.
While guilt is just another feeling, Psychologists suggest it is the glue that keeps our community together and plays a role in people "doing the right thing". "Guilt is a valuable emotion, because it helps to maintain your ties to the people in your community. It provides a painful consequence for actions that would weaken the groups that you belong to," says Art Markman, PhD and Cognitive Scientist. Many psychologists agree with this notion. Also noted, "Because guilt is painful, people often find ways to soothe their feelings by making up for their actions in some way."
Guilt is different in terms of just feeling bad..it's far worse. When people feel bad, they rarely act or make decisions based on just feeling bad about something. Feeling bad subsides, while guilt is a nagging feeling, making us want to act to relieve it, make it up to someone, or be more generous to those we wronged- it really makes us uncomfortable. Study after study will show how people effected by guilt will do something to relieve it- even in made up scenarios for the sake of studies.
If you don't kill someone, steal, or be mean out of the overwhelming and foreseen guilty feelings you will have to live with and endure the rest of your life, then guilt is great. Maybe it keeps us out of trouble or on the straight and narrow. Maybe it gives us a moral compass. In other words guilt is good when it keeps us from doing something wrong.
I can even say guilt sometimes make me a better parent. In times when I just feel like giving up or it's been an exceptionally rough day with the kiddos, all ill feelings toward them all go away and perhaps that is guilt sinking in. How could I possibly be upset with the two loveliest little human beings to exist. And the next day, I'm a better parent. Is it guilt or maybe just love? Who knows?
We could also use guilt to make the right decisions and act responsibly the first time. Guilt is hardly useful after the fact.
Miscommunication and misunderstandings happen frequently, but we won't (and shouldn't) feel guilty about those because we didn't do it on purpose, hopefully. Whereas, something we know we shouldn't have done, we should feel guilty after the fact.
The ugly side of guilt goes like this: the survivor(s) of tragedies often feel guilty, family members use guilt to torture other family members, spouses use it against each other, and it seems to be the top contributing factor in PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). The "Why me?" syndrome. Young people who go off to see war, see tragedies, and wonder why not them, if they watched something terrible happen to someone else. What could they have done to change things?
Despite all the negative issues with guilt, they (psychologists, scientists, and medical community) won't be putting a "bad" label on guilt any time soon. It won't likely ever be a symptom of something or a syndrome all by itself. Rather, guilt is supposed to be that meter that tells us how to set things straight again and turn it into a positive.
Identifying and Escaping Useless Guilt
Ever heard the saying "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." How much do you put up with from, for example, family members who blatantly use guilt to make you tolerate their indiscretions or get their way?
People put up with way too much for sake of not feeling guilty. This includes tolerating abuse, for example the woman who gets abused by her husband but feels guilty if she leaves him or takes her children's father away from them. If anything there is as much good as bad associated with guilt so it continues to exist and push us forward or far behind in life.
- It is known that women feel more guilt than men. Why is that? Should they be better than men, higher standards of niceness? Ever heard how many times a woman says "I'm sorry" for everything; apologizing, justifying, explaining, and asking for forgiveness all day long.
- Psychologists also note that guilt is associated with pleasure. Have you indulged in a guilty pleasure today?
- Guilt can be take not an unhealthy and unnecessary level by reacting to others in anger, revenge (for making them feel guilty), defensive or offensive behavior, blame, judgment, or getting depressed because of guilt. Some people will do anything (even negative) to express and deal with guilt they feel.
- Imposing guilt on our children to get them to behave or be motivated is another negative use of guilt. It can be an oppressive environment. Yes guilt, but more importantly morals and respect, should be used in teaching children, not guilt and other negative emotions. Hopefully we want our children to be kind or considerate because they are and that is their nature. Not because they have to or they'll feel guilty.
My personal ways to escape guilt:
- Don't regret things. In a way this is preventing guilt by carefully weighing outcomes and the odds of important decisions in life. If I do this then I know I was in sound mind and body and carefully decided what I needed to do, etc. I don't have many regrets. I also realize not all decisions are easy...and I have to live with that, but hell, I'm only human. Related to this, a successful CFO with some sound advice said that she never lets a piece of paper pass by her desk twice- Possibly because she deals with things once, decisively and thoroughly, having no regret or useless time spent on thinking about that piece of paper again.
- Can't please everyone. To relieve all feelings of guilt, I'd literally have to please everyone all the time; impossible. This is the reason for so much unnecessary guilt in our lives.
- Don't let guilt interfere with weight loss. Feelings of guilt contribute to why people often overeat. I know..I've binged on food before. When the feeling of guilt creeps in there, it literally makes you eat more to erase that ugly feeling of guilt.
- Know when someone is trying to make you feel guilty to get their way. This comes in the form of bargains, bribes, and pressure from others. It can sound like, "If you don't do (fill in the blank) then I will never speak to you (or you will shame our family or I won't love you anymore, etc). usually these people do it often so you can notice a pattern.
- Get ambivalent. Ambivalence is the act of having both positive and negative emotions (or thoughts) at once about something or someone. This happens all the time, but many times ambivalence is broken by guilt. Some people lack the ability to be ambivalent about situations- it's somebody's fault. if it's mine then I must feel guilty.
- The past is better left there. Ever try to resolve your guilty feelings of something in the past? The person usually doesn't even remember or they still don't forgive you. I like the saying, "Not even God can change the past".
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