3 ways to stop unhealthy guilt
Eva was a good person - thinking about others, kind and helpful, but she didn't feel good about herself. It was really weird how she almost always felt she was wrong and blamed herself for what was happening.
- When her teenage son doesn't arrive at school in time, because he didn’t get out of bed in time, she feels a huge rush of guilt.
- Eva’s dog is limping, and she feels really bad about it, thinking that if she hadn't gone for that long walk last week, he might have been okay. The guilt is kicking in.
- Eva's friend has problems with her marriage. Eva supports her, listens, gives advice and feels for her, but she also feels guilty that she has a lovely husband.
Guilt is a functional and helpful feeling to point out to yourself that you did something wrong. What do you do when something is wrong? You;
- rectify it
- make up for it
What is unhealthy guilt?
Unhealthy guilt is a feeling that isn’t based on you doing something wrong. It is an automatic response which is based on subconscious processes;
- locus of valuation – fear about external LOV or having an unloving internal LOV
- limiting beliefs
- blurred boundaries
Locus of valuation
Psychologist Benjamin Voyer explains; "Guilt is what we call an 'other-focused emotion' - that is an emotion that involves thinking about others. It is the opposite of 'ego-focused' emotions, such as 'pride' for instance. Other-focused emotions are predominant with individuals who see themselves as closely related to others".
In our culture and upbringing, most women are programmed and conditioned to be more focussed on others than on themselves. With this comes an external LOV, where the opinion of others is perceived as more important than one's own opinion. And, as all humans are looking for validation and confirmation, women are looking to get that from an external source. Other people's feedback and approval of their behaviour is important for the sense of well-being and happiness.
When you live with an internal LOV, you value your own opinion more than others. This makes you independent and autonomous. It is irrelevant what others think of you. It gives a sense of freedom to act according to your own ideas and values. However, often the internal LOV is strongly influenced by the external LOV and could give the same messages, in which case it will only enhance the sense of guilt.
Looking at other people for validation is tiring and nerve-racking, as you never know for sure what goes in someone else's head. Wanting to do it right and receiving the approval becomes the (subconscious) drive for all actions. The questions that go with it are; 'What will they think? Will I do it right in their eyes? Will they tell me I have done it wrong?', and if they tell you that you got it wrong, the guilt kicks in.
The judgment of others creates your guilt.
If your internal LOV is just a replication of your external LOV, it will support you feeling guilty. However, looking at your internal LOV will help you to create a distance and independence away from the externally-induced guilt.
Unhealthy guilt is often manufactured and based on ideas which are actually not true. These ideas are passed on from others earlier in life and are called 'limiting beliefs' - an idea that holds you back instead of empowering you. These beliefs are hiding in your subconscious. Limiting beliefs are ideas such as 'it is selfish to put yourself first', or 'a good mother always puts her children first'.
Limiting beliefs are guidelines that don't serve you. They keep you in your place - down there, never up here.
'You are you and I am me. Whatever you decide is your responsibility. Not mine. And you need to take responsibility for your choices. That is not my job'.
This sounds great, but how often do you take responsibility for a situation you haven’t created? A situation that is beyond your control and has nothing to do with you.
If you overstep the boundaries between you and another person, you are inclined to take on the guilt on their behalf. Like the mum who feels guilty when her son is late, because he didn’t get up in time. Who's responsibility is it?
What to do when you feel guilty
1. Is this a familiar scenario? You make yourself responsible for other people's (and animal's) situations, and then blame yourself for the outcome. If it's not your responsibility, you are not to blame.
2. The emotion of guilt is healthy if it is about something you did wrong. It is an alarm button and it will encourage you to make it better again. However, Eva hasn't done anything wrong. When she feels guilty, she should check; 'did I do something wrong?'. If not, then it is a sign to eliminate the guilt.
3. Being susceptible to guilt is often rooted in ideas that you grew up with, along the lines of 'If you really love me, you wouldn’t be naughty' to a child. 'You should always put others first', 'a good parent controls their child', and more. Eva discovered that she was made to believe that 'A good person aims to make others happy', but didn't realise that this only makes sense if there is a sense of control. And, if she can't influence the situation or behaviour, there is no reason to feel guilty.