- Mental Health
Removing Guilt from Your Life
What is Guilt and Why is it a Problem?
We feel guilty when we think (accurately or not) that we have violated a personal standard of conduct or a moral standard. Guilt is closely related to feelings of remorse.
Guilt indicates that we have a conscious and care about others, we have the ability to empathize - unlike a psychopath who has no remorse for harm they've caused to others, are able to rationalize their destructive behavior ("They deserved it."), are able to blame someone else for what they've done ("They made me do it.), or deny outright that they performed the behavior (not outright conscious lying, but having convinced themselves that this is true).
Healthy vs Unhealthy Guilt
Guilt does serve a purpose in humanity - letting us know, for instance, that we've hurt someone's feelings. And, there are two types of responses:
- Healthy: Apologize, make amends, and change your behavior.
- Unhealthy: Rationalize your behavior ("They deserved it.")
The first is healthy because it restores a balance in yourself and with your friend. The second is unhealthy because it leaves the issue unresolved and floating around in your head. If you have a conscience, the unresolved issue can eat away at your feelings of self-esteem and even affect your physical health, demonstrated by bouts of insomnia, anxiety, interior bodily pain, and more.
Examine the feeling and its source - if there is realistic reason for feeling guilty, stop doing what makes you feel guilty. If the guilt is a result of childhood or unrealistic religious issues, just stop feeling guilty.
In my case, I had an overly-developed guilt response. I felt guilty all the time and was taught to believe this was a natural result of not fulfilling God's standards.
Eventually, after getting a college education where I witnessed 'good' people doing the things I had done with much guilt over the years (i.e. celebrating holidays) - these people exhibiting normal behavior without feelings of guilt.
I began to question why I felt guilt about celebrating a birthday whereas the rest of the community celebrated with no guilt at all.
Slowly, I developed a theory: Whenever I felt guilt, I stopped to examine why I felt guilty. If the source of the guilt was based on an irrational religious belief or based on a set of standards developed by an overly strict parent, I decided to not feel guilty (this took a while, of course).
If the guilt was based on a sound principal, such as hurting someone else, I stopped the behavior that brought about the gullt.
Very simple: Quit feeling guilty or quit the behavior that brought about the guilt.