We grew up with so many labels, stereotypes, sometimes even with the “lucky ticket” of inheriting a lot of not resolved messages from our parents that of course we are not going to blame, as ironic as that might sound! During our childhood stage we’re exposed to so many messages which are not ours!, unfortunately during those years we’re not even conscious that we’re little by little taking them as if they were from us, as if they were our truth and pretty much that is where all the screw up story begins!
Theres no point on looking for people to blame either, because that will not allow us to work with all those negative messages or limiting messages, however there is a very key message here that we can allow to be our sorcerer stone we can go back and see from whom and under which circumstances it came! That’s what really is going to help us see the root cause of that message and then most likely we’ll be able to dissolve all its negative power or the limiting beliefs that we have assign to it!
Guilt, is such a strong feeling that is created from perception of values, labels traditions that have been violated, that had been disobeyed, broken or corrupted, however all those messages were created, we are not born with guilt, it is not an inherent emotion that is created within us, it is more an emotions that is seeded in us due to a long tradition of wrong messages that we have been receiving and that we’re perpetuating generation after generation and unfortunately each time has more emotional load, because we have not decided to get rid off of it, because we’re not even aware that we have it or we are still in denial that is there!.
The first step towards trying to eliminate and emotion is first to recognize that we’re feeling it, to be aware of it and then we we’ll be able to trace its source, figure it the reason for it to be created, and then completely remove all its power in our lives once we identify that is not ours, that we don’t think that way anymore or we never did and also to arrive to forgive first ourselves, because I have bad news for you!
Guilt often comes with some very loyal chaperons which are regret, resentment and shame, they indeed create a lot of toxicity inside of your body, inside of your psyche and they’re widely popular among all ages, cultures, religions, countries, etc.
Self-conscious emotions critically involve self-evaluative processes, whereas non-self-conscious (e.g., anger, fear) can involve such processes but need not. To experience a self-conscious emotion, an individual must reflect on his or her stable self-representations and determine how the emotion-eliciting event is relevant to those representations. After self-representations are activated, a series of causal attributions must be made. The first of these is the attribution of locus, which concerns whether events are caused by factors internal or external to the individual (1).
This short paragraph of a model proposed to explain how guilt starts to be created, literally reflects what happens during our own experience of guilt, let’s use an every day life example to point this model and how we can start tracing the route of guilt:
In a common day, let’s picture that we have to spend certain time with our child and help him/her to finish homework, to review it or to simply have some time with them! (And I picked this one to see how perceptions can definitely change the direction of the emotion, the burden and the amount of damage that it can do). Therefore on that day, I knew already I had an appointment with the dentist, I knew it was going to be painful and that it will take probably sometime to finish, however many times we would like to be optimistic instead of realistic, and this is the case I just thought that the day was going to be enough for me to get out of work, go to have a previous X-ray that the dentist ask for the surgical procedure in the afternoon and pick up my girl from school spend some time with her, eat and then go again to the dentist with the X-ray all in the same day, considering that I live in a big city with a lot of traffic, and on top of that is Friday which is usually a day that gets more complicated in terms of people in the streets and traffic, so that was my planned day.
However, as Murphy’s Law is sometimes present, my boss asked me some “urgent” things at the last minute and I had to stay later, so everything shifted my times and schedule, therefore at lets say 3 pm I realize I won’t have time to pack everything and now I start realizing that the procedure might me long and painful and I will get out pretty sore, tired and maybe with no energy to deal with almost anything.
So at that time I call my husband and ask him to pick up my girl from school, to take her to my Mom’s place which is with a Friday traffic day at least 1 hour or more, knowing that it is rainy season and that might delay everything more, he kind of upsets with me because one day before I told him about all this day, he suggested that I left my daughter with my Mom since one day before so I could have time to do everything and he could go with me for the dentist’s surgery, but now everything changed just because I don’t like to feel bad about my mom taking care of my daughter, because I don’t like to be told what to do but most of all because I feel very guilty when asking permission to my boss for personal or health issues (which I don’t usually ask for).
In this everyday life example we can clearly appreciate, how guilt of “asking permission for health at work” was seeded in the example, probably the woman of the short story has programmed messages from other jobs, from her mom, from anyone in the family or friends that “asking for things at work .. is not ok” but sacrificing the peace, time and patience of everyone in the family is ok, because, these could be some of the possible messages behind that: “I might lose my job and then with that am I going to support or contribute to the income?”, “What is my boss and coworkers going to think about me for asking 2-3 permissions per year?” (This is one of the chaperons —Shame), “Why burden my Mom with taking care of my daughter when I think we might have time”, etc… the list of course can go on and on ..
And that example applies perfectly to how many of our everyday situations have now as adults a pretty good burden of guilt, of course with a side dressing of shame and why not with a dessert of resentment or complicating everyone’s life just because I fail to accept that I’m carrying guilt over my job productivity or because I carry a lot of guilt of what my boss think about me if I ask for a health permission.
It’s also worth mentioning that this could apply for either gender, but I chose to depict it with a female experience because guilt is proven to be more reinforced for that gender in many aspects, which also shouldn’t be that way, but every person is responsible to allow for it, and if as an in the example, women don’t start asking for the same things allowed for men, they are promoting that misogynist or biased behavior towards the gender, of course this is not to cause any kind of polemic discussion, it is just with the purpose of showing what happens in a real situation and how this self-perpetuated emotions are perceived and allowed to change the way we act, the way we live and of course the way we feel!
Individuals experience guilt when they focus on negative aspects of their behavior—“the thing done or undone”—but they experience shame when they focus on negative aspects of themselves—the self who did or did not do it.Both emotions are elicited by internal attributions, but guilt results when unstable aspects of the self are blamed, and shame results from blaming the stable self (1).
The attributional dimension of stability concerns the extent to which the causes of events have a permanence beyond the specific event caused. A related dimension is controllability—the extent to which the causes of events can be changed (1).
Research on how people experience guilt have elucidated a very clear path which tends to be reinforced through external traditions, beliefs, society norms and of course judgement of what others might think, as humans, we are also, in my own opinion, wrong biased to comply and satisfied other’s people expectations, however that starts diminishing or self-esteem and of course, starts creating a poor message that our opinion counts and our desires are valuable, which reinforces a cycle of also feeling shame due to not complying with what is a “rule” a tradition or a “family value” and that for us might not have the same weight or meaning but unfortunately we still believe it, but we still act on it because it was imprinted in us very early, it was repeated, it was acted, is what we saw from our caregivers, friends, teachers and many examples of society.
It’s even used by marketing campaigns, by beauty products, by pharmaceutical industries to make you buy they products, guilt is a produced emotion, is not yours, and as it doesn’t belong to you it can be easily discarded, if you just allow yourself to identify from what kind of aspects does it come, for what kind of messages it starts being produced, what was the context where you listen to it since you were a child.
The deeper you go into dismantling the emotion, the more power you’ll take away from it, and the more freedom you will experience in your life!
During that pathway you’ll have to find your way through self-forgiveness, through forgiving all the people involved in those type of messages and to start liberating from all the messages received to creating the most powerful feeling to counteract negative emotions..which is gratitude!
Greater self-forgiveness is related to mental health outcomes, such as lower levels of psychological distress, anxiety, and depression and greater emotional stability (2).
Self-forgiveness also has a positive impact on global well-being outcomes, such as greater satisfaction with life self-esteem and self-trust. In addition, interpersonal well-being outcomes have been identified, including more positive relationships and interactions with others, greater empathy, increased desire for reconciliation with others, and lower hostility. There are also impacts on physiological well-being (2).
Self forgiving, as mentioned by research has a lot of benefits in your life, and will be the tool that will start repairing your comience, your self-esteem, the value that your own beliefs, your own values and your own now behaviors will have, starting by creating that list of emotional guilt related messages that are some of them dormant, some of them are your everyday thoughts and then acted behaviors, however there’s one small requirement to be able to succeed in this new endeavor of cleaning your emotions! And it is that you identify, recognize and be completely aware of the things that you are doing in order to favor those emotions, what are the thoughts, capture them, download them to paper, allow yourself to see them, now without the chaperons of shame, of resentment and start crossing them off from your conscious acts, from your conscious behaviors.
Moreover, start rewriting your story without that backpack full of emotional burden, and feeling lighter in order to interact with others as you really are, not as others wanted you to be, start owning and reclaiming your value, your assertiveness and trusting more in your own new set of values, of beliefs that you want to create to thrive, to overcome your old version and to become the new version that you’ve been dreaming about and craving to be real.
Your actions towards eliminating these imprinted messages are the ones that are going to save you from repeating stories, from falling on old patterns, from self-sabotaging yourself and also from allowing others to control how you feel, what to say and hope to act!
In summary, guilt was created by society, was created to manipulate and to standardized how people should behave according to what other people thought about it, is an old fashion feeling, is an old fashion way to make you a puppet from others, now you are aware that it all depends on your own set of values, it all depends on your own set of beliefs and it will always depend on what you want to assign guilt to or simply start releasing the word and acquiring another one that has more meaning...start being responsible of how you think, feel and behave and guilt shall never be on your radar anymore!
And adopt a very simple rule, what makes you grow, what makes you feel empowered, what allows you to give more to others and help by sharing your own experiences and compassion is what you should guided for, not by rules created to feel guilt of pretty much every decision that goes in opposition with vox populi!
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Tracy, J. L., & Robins, R. W. (2006). Appraisal Antecedents of Shame and Guilt: Support for a Theoretical Model. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(10), 1339–1351.
Cornish, M. A., Wade, N. G., & Cikara, A. (2017). Self-Forgiveness in Individual Psychotherapy: Therapeutic Models and Counseling Outcomes. Handbook of the Psychology of Self-Forgiveness, 163–177.