Guilt

23 January 2016

Guilt is an interesting emotion. Make someone feel bad and you feel guilty about it.  But make someone feel guilty and it's like you are doing them a favour.

But before you get too carried away, bear in mind that dogs don't feel guilt* when they give you that look. They have simply learnt what's needed to avoid a thrashing.

What is Guilt ?

Guilt is an unpleasant feeling due to having done something wrong or not having done something that should have been done. It is the gap between the expectations of oneself and one's actual behaviour. Rational Me is responsible for knowing what is right and therefore he is the one who saddles Actual Me with guilt.  Although guilt is unpleasant, a number of psychologists believe that it is linked to positive change*.  Maybe this is why it feels so good inflicting it on someone else.

On the one hand, guilt often causes a change of behaviour for the better such as preventing us from procrastinating. On the other, it may also cause us to focus on our main source of guilt while neglecting other important areas. 

To achieve a good balance, here are a number of ways to reduce "unproductive" guilt:

  • Adjust your expectations to a realistic and achievable level. Try creating a list of things that you feel you need to do and decide whether they are in fact reasonable.
  • Look to the positive sides to your actions rather than the negative. If you feel tired and need to take a nap, then look at it as a way to improve your productivity rather than you just being lazy. 
  • Be more assertive. Don't let others always tell you what is best. Make up your own mind. There are always going to be situations where you will disagree with someone. Your opinion is just as important as theirs. So there is no need to feel guilty just because it is different.
  • And finally, if you have feel you have wronged someone, be proactive and try and make amends. It may take that weight off your mind!

Beware of guilt trips especially those booked for you by others. These often involve issues more than simply guilt such as shame and fear. Guilt and shame, psychologists will point out, are not the same and I will cover why your dog gives you a shameful look not a guilty one in a future post.

* an asterisk at the end of a link means that if you click this link you will be taken to another site.