I’ve been meaning to talk about guilt for some time now.
It just keeps coming up. I hear the word everywhere – don’t you? “Oh I feel so guilty now but sure I’ll eat less tomorrow…” or “Oh I can’t not go I’d feel awful “, “Addicted to Netflix? LOL – me too – guilty as charged!”
We’re joking, but we probably mean it. We feel guilty.
It’s a feeling that is familiar to most of us – some more than others of course. And I find that it’s something that comes up in therapy a lot. We in Ireland just love our guilt – we are literally born with the stuff if we are Catholic, which most of us are.
But is guilt ‘good’?
Yes and no, I guess. Yes, guilt can be a way of keeping ourselves in check, a moral compass if you will. It alerts us to the possibility that our behaviour is poor, unkind, even cruel or abusive. If you’ve intentionally hurt, sexually assaulted, or conned someone then by all means go ahead and feel guilty! Hopefully you’ll then learn that it’s a sign your behaviour us unacceptable and needs some serious adjusting.
What if we feel guilt even when we’ve done nothing technically wrong?
What if we are so accustomed to feeling guilty that we don’t even check to see if it’s the appropriate feeling?
The list of guilt trips we can take is almost endless. And not a single one of these trips could be described as fun…
- Do you feel guilty saying “no”?
- Do you feel guilty when you eat something you enjoy? ( How can eating be ‘wrong??!’)
- Do you feel guilty that your partner or a carer minds your kids while you work?
- Do you feel guilty saying what you want for your birthday?
- Do you feel guilty if you’re feeling sad on a night out with your friends?
- Do you feel guilty asking for even the smallest of favours?
- Do you feel guilty if you are sexually attracted to someone other than your partner?
- Do you feel guilty at the thought of asking your partner for something sexually pleasurable?
And while I'm here - 'guilty pleasure'?? Unless you're an actual psychopath who derives pleasure from pulling the legs off cats... Liking Abba doesn't count #guilt #mentalhealth #ilikemixingtaytoswithchocolate #sueme #selfcare… Click To Tweet
Every day we are bombarded by GuiltMakers. Advertising doesn’t help of course. Most of it, if you pay close attention, is designed to trigger needless guilt. It’s just so easy to do… the guilt of “not being perfect”, not being “like everyone else”, not being “your best self”. It’s so easy (too easy) for them to make us feel bad. It’s cruel really, when you think about it.
This kind of advertising triggers major feelings of irritation for me: because the purpose is to trigger guilt. What does it trigger for you?
Most of our Guilt is bad for us and should come with a health warning.
Sometimes guilt can be weirdly useful. I know that sounds off, but have you ever felt relief saying ‘Oh no I couldn’t complain to the lovely staff – sure I’d feel so GUILTY!’? Telling ourselves we’d feel guilty can allow us to let ourselves off the hook and to dodge responsibility – it keeps us in victim mode and sometimes that’s oddly comfortable.
It’s a rather dubious ‘benefit’ … one that sometimes means we allow people to (continue to) treat us or others poorly.
And at its most insidious, guilt it can be incredibly damaging and exhausting. We unwittingly keep ourselves stuck by engaging the services of our old friend guilt. It means we do things we don’t fully want to do, or that aren’t good for us. Or we may not do things for fear of imagined rejection or judgement. We might go to places we don’t fully want to go, because we want to avoid the guilt feeling more than we want to avoid the ‘thing’ or ‘place’ in question. We stay in relationships that are dull, difficult or damaging. We cheat ourselves out of reaching our potential.
Guilt has become woven into our discourse – “I’ve got the guilts”, “I couldn’t say that I’d feel awful!” “I’d feel terrible if I -“, “A mother’s guilt knows no end!”
The truth is that no-one will ever judge you as harshly as you judge yourself.
In this way we deprive ourselves of opportunities for joy, fulfilment.
How can we break this habit?Next time you catch the guilt sneaking in, challenge yourself with this question: Have I just done something that's actually wrong? #guiltcanbebad #selfhelp #guilttrip #guilttip #mentalhealthtip #tipsforjoy Click To Tweet
If you haven’t, then your guilt is wholly undeserved, unnecessary and pointless. There is no learning to be gained from it. Just pain.
I think we would do well to collectively drop this tradition of guilt. Instead, we could start a new tradition of responsibility and self-care ~
Imagine the freedom?!!