Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Guilt: An Introduction

What do you feel guilty about? Most people feel guilty about something they have done or have failed to do. It is one of the six toxic emotions that act to destroy our quality of life. Like the other destructive emotions, you can actually do something about it.

Thanks to research in cognitive psychology, we know that it is possible to actually modify our emotions by learning how to change our thinking. Doing this is more than thinking positively. If this were all it took to change our emotions, we would all be doing it. Generally speaking, positive thinking only works well for those who don’t need it – because they already are positive thinkers.

Guilt is triggered by making a mistake, either real or imagined. Not all mistakes lead to guilt, however. How you feel depends on how your interpret the mistake. If you believe that a mistake is something humans do and can be taken as an opportunity to grow from it, you will feel remorse instead of guilt. There is a vast difference between the two.

Again, it is best to understand guilt by putting it in the context of the Domino effect. Although the mistake is the life event that sets stage for guilt, it is the second domino that determines whether you feel guilty or remorseful. The guilt path is taken when your mental to response is, "I should (should not) have done that." The word "should" is all about rules.

We all grow up with rules, whether from our parents, our peers, or institutions such as school and church. These rules are important for learning how to become a civilized adult. However, they can be deadly once you are an adult. If you are a person who makes decisions based on rules then guilt will be a common companion. As humans we are always making mistakes. If you mistakes are tied into the breaking of rules then guilt is the inevitable result.

The major difference between guilt and remorse is the behaviors that follow. Your guilt will get you to punish yourself. We humans tend to be quite creative in self-punishment. Not only is this bad enough, but when you punish yourself that is another mistake. Now you are back at the beginning to be set up for even more guilt.

Like depression guilt is circular in nature because it keeps you running in a circle of guilt. Once you learn to change from guilt to remorse (how to do this will be in an upcoming blog) you will no longer punish yourself for making mistakes. Instead you will be able to forgive yourself for being human.

Living a guilt free life does not mean you will not experience painful emotions. The difference is that the painful emotions will be healthy and short-lived. In this case, the painful emotion will be remorse. Like all healthy, painful emotions, it will drive you forward to begin to be all you can be.

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1 comment:

Michael said...

Great post! So, while everyone makes mistakes and the consequence can be painful, the difference is that remorse leads to positive behaviors but guilt leads to a downward spiral on destructive behavior?