Guilt is not always a negative emotion. It can be a healthy reminder to our moral conscience when we are acting unethically. If we value honesty yet unknowingly lie to a friend to save her some embarrassment,a guilty voice reminds us that it is better to tell the truth. This type of guilt monitors our misdoings and teaches us to be wiser and more loving.
Unhealthy guilt is a different story. This type of guilt excessively punishes us for mistakes; it would have us doing penance for eternity.
When you are guilty,it is not your sins you hate but yourself– Anthony De Mello
At times everyone is selfish,hurtful, fearful,and act without thinking about the consequences. We all make mistakes,yet some people believe they deserve to suffer permanently. They lock themselves up in an emotional prison and throw away the keys,they attach indelible labels to themselves: I am bad, I am guilty,I deserve to be punished. Those labels keep them frozen in their conviction. Instead of feeling a sense of remorse or regret for their behavior,they choose the more damaging sentence of guilt. This inflicts a direct hit on their self-esteem,and creates more labels such as,I am worthless. Some of the manifestations of unhealthy guilt are depression,shame,and anxiety.
Judith was depressed. Even though the affair she had at work was long over,guilt still consumed her. Her best friend,lauren,knew the situation and was concerned about judith’s failing health. It became so bad she threatened to inform Judith’s parents. Judith’s tearful response revealed the depth of her anxiety. “Please,please don’t. I couldn’t face them. I’m so ashamed.”
Do you believe you deserve to suffer when you make a mistake,do something inappropriate, or hurt something? If your answer is in the affirmative,consider these questions: How long must you suffer? What lenght should your sentence be? When is enough? When your time has been served,are you going to unlock the door to your mental prison and set yourself free,or will you still choose to be miserable? Some people take the view that if they hurt someone,they deserve to be hurt too. The truth is that even long-term suffering cannot reverse the bad deed or cure the guilt. Continous self-condemnation actually intensifies the guilt.
Sincerely showing remorse and apologizing for your wrong-doing is a better option.This acknowledges that you are aware of the pain you caused. It also shows that you learned a valuable lesson and won’t repeat the same mistake.Guilt is a crutch for some people: I’m guilty,I’m hopeless,so don’t expect anything else from me.
The Judgement Horse
As adults,we are good at pointing fingers at ourselves. We look back at earlier situations,the ones we feel we should have handled better,and sit in judgement. Often this is inappropriate and cruel,especially when the criticism is directed at our own childhood behavior.
- I should have known better
- I was naive and stupid
- Just thinking about what I did makes me sick.
These are strong words. How easily we forget,or don’t understand that children and teenagers are not fully equipped with maturity and wisdom. Often they don’t appreciate the consequences of their actions and they use hurtful behavior out of fear,or their own pain. I believe it’s not up to us to judge ourselves or others. Better leave that to a higher power. Feeling guilty is bad enough. You don’t need to paralyze yourself by being judgemental.
Empathy and forgiveness for yourself and others can help free you from this unhealthy energy-drainer. Emphathy is feeling the impact of what the other person has experienced,and feeling how that is affecting you as well. It’s feeling an appropriate level of sorrow and regret,without being overwhelmed with guilt and judgement.
Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death-Coco Channel