Guilt, Guilty or Guilt Ridden

Have you ever felt guilty? I mean that sinking feeling you can’t shake even though in your head you know better? How many forms of guilt are there, let’s name a few on here to refresh your memory? Let’s see there is the guilt trip (usually given to you by someone else), feeling guilty after you do something, or the worry of an outcome that hasn’t even happened yet, or a moms guilt which is a huge one (could go for dads too I guess).

I think this is the mother of all guilt:   Primordial guilt… Ever feel that no matter what you do, or don’t do, somehow, you did the wrong thing or the result will be screwed up? And if, by chance, you feel blameless, then someone supposedly more astute confirms your culpability. Urrrhh.

This month of August (even though I am a few days ahead we are going to look at guilt in our lives and figure out ways we can empower ourselves instead of defeating ourselves.)

Here is the definition of guilt from the dictionary: Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense.[1] It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation.[2] It is closely related to the concept of remorse. Be clear on what it is we are learning about here.  In this definition we can see whether it is true or not we “feel” guilt as being true more often than not and this does affect our reactions to situations.

Guilt is the emotional reaction people may feel if they believe they are directly or indirectly responsible for something bad happening.  You take on feelings that make you feel negative and begin to dwell on them over and over everyday.  How does this help anyone in life to move forward? You can feel bad a bout your behavior and its consequences.  This is different from the feeling of shame, because people who feel shame are evaluating themselves as bad—not just their actions. For example, if you feel bad for telling a lie, that would be a feeling of guilt. However, if you feel bad for being a liar, that would be a feeling of shame.

Are there any benefits or functions of guilt we can use in a positive way? I see the two main functions of guilt are to serve as a way of punishing oneself for bad behavior (negative way), or it can also be a catalyst for changing whatever situation caused the feelings of guilt in the first place (positive if used correctly). Both of these functions can help people to be more aware of their actions affecting other people around them.  In fact, people who don’t feel guilt and remorse from time to time are considered mentally ill. However, guilt can also have harmful effects when it causes people to withdraw from others. Also, there are occasions where people feel irrational guilt for things that are beyond their control. It is only natural, but in this case it is counterproductive.  Guilt is not a good emotion to hang onto for a long period of time.  It is a good idea to learn to feel it then let it go in a healthy way.  Not hold on to it for any long period of time  due to getting stuck in a rut and unable to move past the feeling.  Ignoring guilt does not work either, like all emotions it needs to be processed and released.  If you look at guilt as a positive force in life it can be looked at this way. Guilty feelings arise when something really is your fault. You take responsibility for your actions. 🙂 When you feel guilt in this situation, it is your conscience at work, and that is a very good thing. What kind of world would this be if most people didn’t care when their actions had adverse effects on other people? Healthy guilt involves accountability for ones own actions. Although those actions can’t be undone, healthy guilt will motivate people to find ways to better the situation that they caused.  Sometimes overcoming good guilt is as simple as  doing what your conscience naturally tells you to do. Taking the first steps your intuition encourages you to do and the results will be productive.  Naturally it depends on how serious the event is that you feel guilty about. It may take a long time to undo the damage you have done, and even the right thing to do isn’t always an easy thing to do.

People may be prone to guilt if they around other people who use it as a means of manipulation. Ever have these kind of people in your life? The ones that give you guilt trips because you aren’t doing what they want you to do? Because guilty people often feel the need to make up for the harm they have done, manipulative people can take advantage of that by guiding people towards conclusions that leave them feeling guilty. It may be entertaining on television when a character gains something by convincing someone else that the situation was his or her fault, but the resentment of being manipulated in real life is no laughing matter.

Unhealthy guilt are  feelings that aren’t based in reality or rationality. It happens when people feel guilty for something they didn’t cause or couldn’t help causing. This kind of  guilt often gets its roots from guilt and unworthiness that a person has been conditioned to feel, whether from past or present feelings. Unhealthy relationships and environments sometimes cause people to feel responsible for things that are really outside of their realm of responsibility. As an example, we cannot assume responsibility for how others feel because of our actions. It would be healthy to feel guilty for making weight jokes about a woman who is sensitive about her weight, but it would be unhealthy to feel guilty for becoming a doctor when your mother always wanted you to be a lawyer.

Overcoming this type of negativity in our mind can sometimes be a little tougher.  You may need to tackle it from both  the outside and inside. upon inner reflection, it is useful to think in terms of logic about what is within you.  Not what is  within a persons’ control. It is also important to reflect upon all of the things you do which make you an important person who is worthwhile to be around. Surround yourself with people who reinforce these ideas and don’t tear down your self-esteem. Allowing yourself to start tearing yourself down is not a healthy reaction, only you can control what you say or believe about yourself.  You do NOT have to buy into what others say about you.  That is their opinion about you and you can choose to let them have it without affecting you.  Getting professional help is an opition also.

The last point for today is important to remember: Negative feelings like guilt have a place in all of us, no one is immune from them. Without them, the good feelings would have nothing to stand out against. The most important thing is to make negative feelings work for you instead of against you.  That is what we will be looking at ways to do this month.  Working for us instead of against us. 🙂



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