Guilt Clouds Positive Experience
Guilt is a feeling that often emerges during the holiday season to cloud our experience of what can be a joyous time of year. In any discussion of this topic we need to be clear about the difference between shame and guilt. Many people use these two terms interchangeably but in fact they are different emotions.
Guilt is the feeling you have when you act in a way that violates certain rules that you or society hold as the right or correct way to behave. Shame on the other hand speaks to a quality of your inner SELF versus your actions…you feel that you are bad, wrong or flawed with shame. This is deeper and more complex an issue than guilt.
Guilt can be handled by:
- Becoming aware of your behavior;
- Understanding which of your values you went against;
- Making a commitment to make different choices in the future.
4. Having an inner process that erases this pattern from the nervous system
Healthy guilt is merely a reminder that we have transgressed a boundary that compromises our personal integrity. Normally we all want to feel that our values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and action are on the same track. This helps us to know who we are, makes us feel we can trust ourselves and have an inner sense of continuity that helps guide our lives.
A common problem with guilt arises when we believe we are responsible for things that we really are not. Generally this occurs when we have poorly defined boundaries or a lack of self-awareness. It could be argued that this is infringing on the area of shame. For now we would like to suggest that perhaps there is a middle ground that could be called toxic guilt. We need to have a way to speak about the feelings we have and by giving them clear names it helps to not only understand but also to adopt appropriate solutions. Toxic guilt can feel vague and pervasive. There is a strong feeling without a clearly defined source.
A common source for this type of generalized guilt is an environment where one or more people do not accept personal responsibility and routinely cast blame outside themselves (this person also lacks a clearly defined, strong sense of self and is just displaying an alternate means of coping with it). Other people within that circle who lack a strong sense of self may be vulnerable to ‘picking up’ the disowned feelings. Children are particularly vulnerable as their sense of self, boundaries and personal authority are not fully formed just because they are children. A person who has not completed those developmental tasks is also a prime candidate for ‘guilt by assignment.’
Don’t Should on Yourself
No discussion of guilt is complete without the ever popular ‘shoulds,’ ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’ that abound and are a fertile breeding ground for guilt. Think about how often these words creep into your thought pattern. How often does your self-talk include such thoughts as: I should choose healthier foods, I ought to lose weight, I must exercise every day, I ought to call parents, I should take better care of myself, I must not let others cross my boundaries. When we travel down this road of self-talk, we not only invite guilt in and allow it to take over our energy field; we also intensify that which is already there. Watch out for these words in your own patterns. When do you use them? Are you allowing your boundaries to be crossed?
Remedies and Solutions
Here are some ways to alleviate feelings of guilt in your life:
Perspective — Develop it! Talk with others who have different backgrounds, cultures and family structures. Developing a broad perspective can help you develop clarity.
Boundaries — Go on an archeological dig for your SELF. Self-excavation can be done with a therapist, in a self-help group, and/or to start — a good reading list.
Values clarification — There are many excellent books that help with techniques in this area.
Self observation — Without self flagellation become an observer of yourself. Journaling can be of great help with this approach.
Meditation — Quieting the mind, listening deeply to the softer ‘voices within’ can be of tremendous help by itself or in combination with some of the other methods named here.
Recognizing and releasing limiting beliefs — Anything and everything is possible. Observe your patterns and begin to identify beliefs that are holding you back. Choose different thoughts.