The Power of Guilt in Your Life!

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And as promised, today I will be focusing on the concept of guilt. Guilt in its simplest form is when we feel bad about something you did or did not do. It is usually about a behavior; an action you did or did not do. Healthy guilt is very appropriate. It is appropriate to feel bad about certain behaviors, such as lying to a friend about why you can’t go out with them when you are really going out on a date. Or, spending family savings on buying clothes etc. and lying to your partner. A few more examples are feeling guilty that you forgot your parent’s birthday or feeling bad you didn’t go visit someone when they were in the hospital, to cheating on your partner. Healthy guilt can be a moral compass. Healthy guilt can guide you in living in a way that honors who you want to be. It can keep you on the path of respectful living.

So when you have guilt about a behavior or lack of a behavior that is clearly appropriate to feel (such as the above examples); behaviors that merit the feeling of guilt then I call that healthy guilt. When you have healthy guilty you have several options. You need to make amends with yourself and sometimes with another person. In my opinion, the way you make amends with yourself is you take ownership and in taking ownership that means you are truthful to yourself about what went on; acknowledge to yourself the choice you made, and even better is that you learn to have compassion and understanding on why you made that choice. So with healthy guilt you feel appropriately bad about the behavior and you have some compassion and understanding on how you made a certain choice and hence, then can forgive yourself.

And often when you have behaviors you feel guilty about and have then made amends with yourself sometimes you need to make amends with the other person. This just depends on the relationship you have with the other party involved. If this person is someone you are close to such as a close friend, family member, partner, child usually amends is advised. So if something has occurred with my significant other, that relationship merits an amends. If I have examined my behavior and know it was a poor choice to lie about spending money from our joint account without telling him/her then it is appropriate to share and apologize to that person.

If the behavior I feel guilt about occurred with someone I don’t know or have very little relationship with then a direct amends may not be necessary or feasible. For example, maybe one morning I was rushing and cut in line ahead of someone so that I could catch the next bus and I feel bad about this immature behavior. I can make amends with myself. I don’t have to track this person down and apologize.

Guilt is dangerous when it becomes unhealthy. Such as when you ruminate over and over again about something you feel bad about. Like when you feel guilty for speaking up or not speaking up for yourself. Feeling guilty that you declined going out with a friends because you are tired and really want to relax is an example of unhealthy guilt. It is perfectly within your rights to decline an invitation because you’re tired or don’t feel up to going. Sadly, there are many who would decline but then berate themselves with guilt.

The only solution I know to unhealthy guilt is to learn to be more self-nurturing. When you are unable to associate guilt with a behavior you are unhappy about and therefore you do not take responsibility for this behavior or lack of; then the guilt is unhealthy. Berating yourself is not a healthy way to cope. knowing that you have a right to forgive yourself and let go of any guilt you have over a behavior you did or wish you would have done is essential. Don’t let guilt pull you down and control you in a negative way. The only healthy way to deal with guilt is taking ownership, having self-compassion, making amends with yourself, and when appropriate making amends with another.

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