Guilt, it builds up inside of us faster than fear. It takes us down when we least expect it. It makes us do things we don’t want to do. It haunts us in our dreams. It dominates our waking hours. But what is it? According to Wikipedia-Guilt is the act of believing that you are responsible for the commission of an offense or moral breech, whether accurate or not. When things go wrong, we often feel guilty about the outcome. Even if we didn't do anything wrong, we often feel it was our fault.
Why do I feel guilty? What can I do to stop the guilt?
Our conscience uses what we have been taught to 'guide' us in our choices and our feelings. Our conscience is our guilt.
© Cheryl Simonds 2012
Guilt is a mechanism created in our brains that acts as a part of our conscience.
Our conscience is a tiny little voice deep down inside that whispers little reminders and pokes us when we do something that WE feel is wrong. It gets stronger and stronger until we have no choice but to give in and correct the situation. The conscience is a hard thing to ignore once it has taken hold. But it is only a belief, not necessarily the truth. We believe as we have been taught, either from our parents, our surroundings, or our visual lessons. We often do as we see, not as we hear. So the conscience is not the law of the world, but the reminder of our own beliefs; a strong reminder that we often feel reluctant to ignore.
Being guilty and feeling guilty are two different things.
When one is guilty, one actually committed some act that was legally or morally wrong. When one feels guilty, one may not have committed the act, they just feel that they may be responsible for the act having been committed. Such as feeling guilty if you didn’t give someone a ride home because you didn’t know them and then you find out that they got hit by a car. You feel guilty that you didn’t give them a ride when you had the chance. However, you did not hit them. You did the right thing by protecting yourself and your family and not giving them a ride. You are not guilty, but your conscience keeps telling you that you COULD have given them a ride and then they MIGHT NOT have been hit by a car. The key phrase is MIGHT NOT.
We learn our lessons as we grow and then our conscience reminds us when we 'forget' those lessons.
Some of us are better at ignoring our conscience than others. Those who are good at ignoring their conscience, often are the ones that are guilty of committing the act. Those of us who find it difficult to ignore our conscience are often the ones who FEEL guilty that the act was committed and we did nothing to stop or prevent it. The sad part is: we usually couldn’t have done anything to stop or prevent it in the first place.
Now, how do we stop the guilty feelings from hitting us hard enough to make us change how and what we do?
Well, we can’t really stop the feelings, but we can change how we deal with them. Guilty feelings are the result of our subconscious mind seeing how we perceive something and acting accordingly. So we need to consciously change how we see things and how they make us feel. (Hey, don’t start groaning about how it’s all been said before; I have something different in mind.)
You remember the wheel saying?
You know the one I mean.
It’s all on the wheel, it all comes around. Well, it does, in a way. Take, for instance, how we feel when someone asks us to help them, I don’t know-get a savings account started. You can’t because you have other things going on. The person carries their money on them waiting for you to help them, and they get robbed. Whose fault is it? You think it’s yours because you didn’t help them when they asked; but the truth is, they didn’t put the money in a safe place until you could help them. And why did they wait, when they could have gone to a bank and set up an account all on their own. You didn’t have to go; they just wanted you to go. Now, after thinking the situation through, who is guilty? They are! But the wheel we were talking about, well, you were asked; the wheel turns; you say you can’t; the wheel turns; they don’t store their money safe; the wheel turns; and they are robbed; the wheel turns; you feel guilty; the wheel turns; you give them money to make up for not being there when they needed you; the wheel turns; you are now out of the money you needed to pay the rent. Now what?
You think it's over, right?
You scrimp and save to get the money to pay the rent and still cover everything else, and then breathe a sigh of relief because you did it and can now relax. But, it’s not quite over because you see that wheel is still turning and the person will now use you for the extra money they want for different things by pointing out that they might have had the money IF you had helped them when they asked and so you give them more, ah, do you see the pattern? That wheel is a terrible thing. But, you can stop it turning at any point and even begin it turning in another direction by doing one simple thing. What is that thing? It’s real easy. It’s the best step known to man (or woman). What is it? Well, Just Say No! Yes, that is it. And it really is that simple. Just Say No!
© Cheryl Simonds 2012
You see, you didn’t rob the person.
You didn’t tell them to carry their money for all to see. You didn’t tell them to wait until you could help them. What you did was say you had things to do and couldn’t help them right now. It was THEIR decision from that moment on, not yours. They are the guilty party, not you. So, when that guilt starts to sneak up on you, Just Say No! No, I did not cause the situation. No, I did not create the situation. No, my actions did not make the situation happen. No, I didn’t do it! If you must feel guilty about something, then feel guilty about feeling guilty. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but it really does if you look at it closely. If you feel guilty about something you didn’t do or cause, then you should be mad at yourself for feeling guilty in the first place.
And that, my friends, is the answer.
Get mad! Get angry at yourself! Tell yourself how stupid it is for you to blame yourself for someone else’s choices. Even if you gave them ideas, and expressed your opinion about something, you didn’t make the decision for them. They made the decision. Even if it was based on your opinions, you still DID NOT MAKE THE DECISION. Therefore, it isn’t your fault. You see, you gave an opinion, you spoke ideas, you told them how you felt, but you don’t know the whole story, only they do and it is up to them to take everything into consideration before making a decision.
The truth is, you are the only one who can make a decision for yourself. No one else can make those decisions for you. Peer pressure can influence your choices, but it still can’t make the choice. And that goes for everyone else as well. They can ask for suggestions, they can follow the lead, they can ask which way, but they can’t ask anyone to make the decisions for them. Only they can do that.
Now, what about those situatons when we did make the decision and someone got hurt, or something bad happened?
Shouldn’t we feel guilty for that? Well, it depends on the situation. If you made a spur of the moment decision without thinking the possibilities through first, then, yeah, you might be guilty. But if you took the time to think about results and made the best choice you could, then you have no reason to feel guilty. I know you will, though, because any descent person would. But, you can ease the feeling by telling yourself that you did think it through, you did try to work out the best solution, and you did try to make the best decision possible. The fact that something went wrong doesn’t always mean you did something wrong. It only means something went wrong.
How should we feel when someone tells us it is our fault, even if we know it isn't?
The best way to handle a situation like that is to think about it for a minute and have confidence in your actions. You thought it out, you did what you thought was the best thing to do, and you are confident in your choice. Don’t waiver. Don’t believe them. You did the best you could. It’s not your fault!
Something that I have learned through the years is that people don’t like to feel responsible for a decision if something went wrong. No one wants to think that they might have done something that caused problems for someone else. The natural thing to do is to try to find a reason or excuse for the problem; one that doesn’t involve them; one that takes all the blame away from them; one that keeps them from feeling guilty. We all feel that way. But don’t let them put the blame on you for something they did. Don’t let them make you feel guilty by telling you if you had done this or that it might not have happened.
So, how do we handle this again?
Think it through. Ask questions. Think about the possible results. And, make the best decision you can based on the information you have. And, more important than anything else is: be confident in your choices and tell the guilt NO. The next time the wheel comes around, remember to stop it and turn it back by: "Just Saying No!"