We are human beings and we are fallible. We exist not to achieve perfection but to learn, grow and evolve. When the point in time comes that we no longer make mistakes, we will no longer have a purpose for living.
In the course of a lifetime the number of mistakes made by each of us will be in the thousands. The majority of those mistakes will be so insignificant that we will move past them without a second thought.
No one can possibly know the right thing to do or say in every situation. As we progress through life we may have the benefit of hindsight to assist us, but there will always be times when we err in judgment, words, or action.
A significant amount of the mistakes we make as individuals will impact others. The degree of the impact will vary. Those of us who are conscientious and compassionate will be sensitive to the feelings of others and remorseful for our words or actions. Saying we are sorry and making due amends are the appropriate actions to take. Once said and done it is time to move forward.
At this stage many of us get stuck. It comes down to forgiveness; some of us can forgive ourselves for our transgressions, some of us cannot.
Lacking the ability to forgive oneself is what kindles the flames of guilt. It is normal to have feelings of guilt after doing something wrong, reacting inappropriately, or acting in ways that conflict with one’s moral compass. There are certainly times when guilt feelings are justified and healthy.
Healthy guilt comes from having done something wrong or having thought about doing something wrong with deliberate intention and rationality. In these situations it is one’s conscience that triggers him to take notice of his harmful, irresponsible, or malicious intent.
Healthy guilt acts as mechanism that prevents us from doing things we know are wrong. When we have already committed an injustice, healthy guilt makes us aware of our accountability.
We can eradicate our healthy guilt by making amends and by not repeating the same guilt-producing behavior.
A problem arises when the intensity or duration of one’s guilt does not fit the intensity or duration of his offense. Guilt is unhealthy when one assumes more responsibility then is warranted.
Guilt is unhealthy when those who have done nothing wrong believe that they have and then mercilessly inflict self-punishment. Whether or not one should feel guilty is based on the intention behind his actions.
Sometimes we feel guilty about an occurrence with a negative outcome that we believe we could have prevented. We may carry the weight of that guilt whether or not our belief is realistically based. We may punish ourselves with “what if, should have, would have, and why didn’t I” type questions.
This type of guilt serves no other purpose than self-sabotage. It acts as a poison that kills the body, mind, and spirit. It prevents us from savoring the happiness of today by keeping us stuck in a past we can do nothing about.
A guilt complex is fed by one’s insecurities, expectations and need for acceptance. Overly conscientious people, perfectionists, pleasers, and those with unreasonably high standards tend to suffer from this condition the most.
To understand why you may have this tendency, you only need to examine your past. Unhealthy guilt is an acquired behavior. Most of us learn it through childhood conditioning.
Parents are responsible for teaching their children to behave in ways that conform to societal norms. That is accomplished through praise and discipline. Though children require reprimanding and punishment, they should always know that they are unconditionally loved no matter how they behave. A problem arises when parental praise is associated with acceptance, love, and being labeled “good,” and discipline is associated with non-acceptance, withdrawal of love, and being labeled “bad.”
Some parents go as far as to say that they are disappointed in the child or that he is embarrassing them by his behavior. This is a deliberate tactic used to make the child feel guilty for what he has done. The parents have used guilt to motivate him to change his behavior. This sends the wrong message.
A child learns by trial and error. Why should he be made to feel guilty for minor infractions?
Being taught right from wrong is one thing; being made to feel guilty is another. Guilt sets the child up for a lifelong pattern of approval seeking. He will come to fear that if he does not measure up to the expectations of others, he will not be liked or loved. When others disapprove of what he says or does, he will feel guilty and ashamed.
The irony is that the same person suffering from a lifelong guilt complex will use guilt tactics as a way to get what he wants from others. That is the only method he has at his disposal. As a child he learned from his parents to manipulate others to get his needs met.
Parents who have an excessive need to please their child easily become victims of their child’s manipulations and guilt trips. Even parents who are most adept at laying guilt on their kids can fall prey to children who turn around and use the same tactics on them.
Children attempt to manipulate their parents with guilt by saying things such as, “Everybody else’s parents let them do it so why can’t I” or ”You don’t love me or you would buy it for me, I never get anything I want” and “You are so mean; I hate you!” They will scream, cry, and throw tantrums to get their way. Parents who feed into this behavior will only reinforce it.
These unhealthy behavior patterns become a vicious cycle that repeats with each generation.
Another major source of guilt usually learned in childhood and reinforced by parents, is rooted in certain religions. We are taught by many religions to follow a particular moral code. Straying from that code makes us a sinner. We are made to feel guilty and ashamed for our mistakes and must repent in order to be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Understandably, religion is a top priority and source of stability in the lives of many. Religion is what connects many of us with God or a Higher Power. The majority of people rely on religion to guide them through life.
Regardless of what religion we follow we will all make mistakes. Life is about learning from mistakes; it is about growth and development. It is not about punishment and suffering. Religion should be comforting and fulfilling. It should not be a source of fear, guilt, and shame.
Continues in Living a Guilt-Free Life – Part 2
“It is not your fault” © Marekuliasz | Dreamstime.com
“Heaven and Hell” © Icefields | Dreamstime.com
“365 Days (2): Day 49” By Go Ask Alice on Flickr – Some Rights Reserved
“Asking For Forgiveness” By Hang_in_there on Flickr – Some Rights Reserved