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Guilt and parenting. It is a scary reality. With no easy cure. But here are some thoughts on it. And how we teach it.

Updated on September 26, 2013

A mustard seed can grow into this tree

You doing something wrong and feeling guilty about it is not my fault.
You doing something wrong and feeling guilty about it is not my fault. | Source

Guilt can eat you alive.

Guilt is a strange beast. Some people seem to be able to cause guilt. Others seem to go looking for guilt. Parenting is a place to teach guilt if you so desire. You can also teach to not have guilt if you so choose. Or is guilt that simple? Do we really get to choose?

To tell you the truth I am sick of adult and young adults saying things like "why are you trying to make me feel guilty?" or "you are laying a guilt trip on me?" By the time you turn into a young adult guilt is your choice to have.

Children can be taught to have guilt by a parent figure, teacher, coach, grandparents or what have you.

However if a parent says "I am disappointed in you" that is not laying a guilt trip on the child. Get over it.

Is guilt a pattern in your life?

If so is the guilt you feel your fault or someone else's?

See results

How do you teach someone to feel guilt, it is not instinctive.

Do not confuse the issue of "causing" guilt with the notion of teaching someone to have it. And here is how we teach it. Get ready it is a shock at how simple it is. When a child does something wrong do you say "you are a bad boy" ? or do you say "that was a bad thing to do"? You see if we tell a person they are bad because the did a bad thing we attack there self esteem. We tell them the are worthless because, in their heart they know what they did was wrong, but this sense that makes them not worthy is the teaching of guilt.

The next thing we use to teach guilt is this idea that another person's conduct makes me feel sad. Well OK maybe it does. But when we use that to turn it onto the other person in order to punish that is the teaching of guilt. If I feel bad I have to own that. It is not your fault. If it is my reaction to something you have done --- it is still on me. Co-dependency is not healthy. Other people determining if you should be happy or sad is really kind of sick. Even though it seems to be an acceptable thought. Probably taught to us by our parents.

Feel Good? That is your choice.

So your daughter feels bad because of your reaction to what she has done.

That is just fine if what she did was bad. End of story, get over it and move on. But as soon as you punish her with your feelings you are teaching guilt. Combine with the suggestion that she is bad and there you have it. Guilt. Do it as a habit and so will she. Moms and dads that walk around pouting because their little angel is bad. Teach guilt.

Of course he got in trouble for stealing cookies. And it might have made me angry. For a few seconds.

So I raised my voice and then two minutes later he came into my office and asked is I was happy. Of course I told him yes. And reminded that he always makes me happy. But he should obey daddy. End of conversation.
So I raised my voice and then two minutes later he came into my office and asked is I was happy. Of course I told him yes. And reminded that he always makes me happy. But he should obey daddy. End of conversation. | Source

So if my reaction to your conduct makes you feel guilty

Be my guest but it ain't got nothing to do with me. You are just taught to act that way. My mother taught me. And my brothers taught it out of me. They did not buy into that nonsense for a second. But my middle brother acted like he did and that got him more cookies and shorter life sentences;-)

So I am not saying we should not be sympathetic or have empathy. But that needs to be kept on the positive side of our psychic ledger. if we apply guilt to it we transfer it to the negative side.

If the consequence of your action ends up making you feel guilty, do not do it. If you feel like you must be assertive and that has negative consequences in your guilt bucket. Get over it. Once you have guilt and you will not do the work to get it under control then you better be real careful not to upset people.

This whole idea about doing what is right for you and then feeling guilty because it was not right for someone else is just nonsense. If you find your self "between a rock and a hard place" because if you do one thing it will hurt you and if another it will hurt them. Then you are amazingly self centered. Only do what is right. Then let the chips fall as they may.

This guy hates to see people sad or unhappy

So we have to be careful not to use that against him.
So we have to be careful not to use that against him. | Source

As is this author's want let me close with some thoughts.

Should I feel bad if you feel bad?

Very seldom have I seen a person feel better when someone is feeling bad with them.

Idle minds seem to come up with worry and guilt a lot more than busy ones.

Overly sensitive people need to change, not the world.

If you make someone cry in sadness you should probably not keep doing whatever you are doing or not do it again.


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    • Seafarer Mama profile image

      Karen A Szklany 

      5 years ago from New England

      Great discernment between "useful" guilt (temporary) and destructive, unnecessary guilt. I also enjoyed your point about being of a mind to do "the right thing" and if another is offended, "oh well." It is okay to sympathize, but we need not base our lives on their opinion.

      If my daughter makes a mistake, I comfort her if she feels sad, and we talk about how it affects those around her, and about what could be done differently, end the conversation with a hug, and that is that. She usually ends up trotting off merrily to play again.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon Henry 

      5 years ago from Texas

      Ah, vut you are. And even if you weren't, so long as it is

    • Ericdierker profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      That my friend is music to my ears. If I were a great chef that is what I would serve every day ;-)

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon Henry 

      5 years ago from Texas

      Interesting food for thought, my friend.


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