Jay Rifenbary

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Guilt - A Not So Pleasant Reminder

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Is feeling guilty emotionally helpful or harmful? How could guilt be a good thing when it feels so bad? Guilt is always a reminder of the perceived or real mistakes we have made, and faults we possess. In this context, guilt is defined as, "a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined." If you have never felt guilt you most likely have no shame, and therefore believe you have never made a mistake. Of course that is humanly impossible to accomplish. An absence of shame in the aftermath of a mistake you have made reveals a lack of personal accountability, humility and most likely the development of an egotistical and narcissistic personality. A narcissist is defined as, " inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity". Tough to feel guilty when it's all about you.

Guilt challenges you to question what behaviors you believe to be right and wrong, and how those behaviors positively or negatively impact your life. Culture, religion, society, and the rules and laws established within the realm of those structures are the primary architects in designing the parameters for guilt. Having attended a Catholic elementary school and grown up in the Catholic faith, there were certainly rules established that were indoctrinated in all who were part of that upbringing. We were also informed that if any of those rules were broken going to hell was a good possibility. Ouch! How could you not feel guilty just thinking about violating part of the catholic code? Although there may be extremes, guilt does make you think about the choices you make and have made. It forces you to reflect on how your behaviors align or misalign with the core values you believe to be important in your life.

Depending on how much you care for others will also determine how much potential guilt you may feel when a wrongdoing has occurred. Self-Centered individuals always feel less guilt because they care much less for those around them. This is not to say that the more selfless you are the more you should walk around feeling guilty, but it does force you to be more cognizant of the behaviors you display and there impact on others. To artificially subdue your feeling of guilt when a mistake has been made can be accomplished in two ways. One, believe you are not the cause of the mistake, and two believe you are the one that has been wronged or victimized. The problem with each of these approaches is what if neither approach is true? This only creates greater emotional fallout because you are being dishonest with yourself. Subsequently, your self-respect is negatively impacted. If you have acknowledged a mistake, taken ownership for it, attempted to correct it, and have done your best to sincerely make amends for it, continuing to carry the guilt around is emotionally and physically detrimental.

As author of “Brave New World” Aldous Huxley stated, “Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.” There are things that happened yesterday that you have no control over today. As always, it is a choice whether your guilt is used as an excuse for despair, or an avenue to forgive yourself and use it as an opportunity to be a better you. Carrying guilt is comparable to never taking your foot off the brake pedal of your car. It slows you down, hinders your progress and prevents you from efficiently getting to where you want to go. You need to put on the brakes at times, for you never want your life to spin completely out of control. It is knowing when to sensibly apply and release the brakes of guilt that is your key to emotional equilibrium. Keep cruising forward toward the potential of what you can be, and not drive in reverse toward what you should have been. Enjoy the ride.



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