Monday, April 29, 2019

Be careful of saying “I feel guilty.”

As you may know, I really value all of our emotional experiences. Even something that is very “negative,” embarrassing, and/or uncomfortable, when it comes to our emotional experience, has to be acknowledged, accepted, and expressed. There is no benefit gained from ignoring, pushing down, or distracting ourselves from these emotions, and not expressing them in some situations. However, when it comes to feelings of “guilt”, I warn you to be very careful and not to misuse this expression, because doing so can lead to unnecessary suffering on your part.

You can feel guilty only when you did “something tangibly wrong”, such as something illegal and/or immoral or bad. Other than those situations, you CANNNOT feel guilty. I know many people cannot help but feel guilty, even when they have done nothing wrong, but such painful feelings CANNOT be labeled as guilt. They are actually something else, probably relabeling of such things as feeling “bad,” “sad,” “helpless,” “anxious,” and such.

It is very very important not to misuse the word “guilt,” although it is just a word. Do you have any idea why that is? Because although it is just a word, it has strong power over our psychological elements.

Let me give you an example. Assume you have an alcoholic brother who has been asking you for money for years. You have helped him out many times, but the result has been the same, and he is still a drunk with no motivation. You finally decide to choose yourself and your family and/or family of choice over him and say “No” to him, but you feel “guilty.” In this scenario, did you do anything wrong,  something illegal or immoral? No, you did not. So, it is not “guilty” feelings, but you are really feeling “sad,” “helpless,” and “bad” about the situation and about him.

If you mislabel it as guilt, then you cannot help but feel you are doing something wrong, and you will end up experiencing some internal pressure to do something for him, no matter how much you know that he will not change or even appreciate it. If you don’t do anything with this guilt, you will now suffer so badly because of this “guilt,” because you feel you did not do anything for him. Pay attention: If you label your feelings as feeling sad, helpless, and bad about the situation and/or about him, you won’t need to struggle over the strong internal pressure you would have experienced otherwise with labeling your feelings as “guilt.” You still feel a lot of emotion, but then you may be able to accept your powerlessness over the situation more calmly in time. It is just a matter of words, but it has strong psychological power.

Many people misuse the word “guilt,” and suffer a lot unnecessarily as a result. Yes, it is still awful to witness someone we love or care for doing something that is not good for themselves and/or suffering from their own issues over which we are powerless. We feel bad. But it is not our wrongdoing and our feelings can’t be called “guilt.” This is very important and if you tend to feel guilty often, try to pay good attention to what you are doing, and if in fact it is not something that is wrong, then correct this misused expression. You will notice something is different in you as a result.

As the expression “guilt-trip” suggests, the word “guilt” itself has strong manipulative power to it. When we have done nothing that is actually bad or wrong, using accurate words other than guilt to label our feelings is really helpful in our lives.

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