“Understanding guilt.”

I wanted to take a moment to frame guilt a little.  It’s funny, but I thought that guilt was not something that I lived with all that much until recently.

Interestingly, what I didn’t realize is that I was not consciously aware of the impact on guilt on my life.

First a working definition.  Guilt is triggered when we take an action that goes against our personal moral fiber.  We experience guilt when we take action that we think is morally reprehensible.  Another way to think of it is as an internal cross-check that our body uses to keep us in line with our own belief system, when our actions and thoughts are contradictory.

So if we think an action as wrong, and we do it anyway, it will result in a brief thought of “I know I shouldn’t have done that” which in turn creates a feeling of guilt.

Working with the assumption that our beliefs are generally good, this internal system, keeps us safe.  However, as we know, many of our beliefs are not our own, rather things we have assumed from our environment (society, parents, friends, etc), and in many cases aren’t all that true or helpful.

Let’s make this a little more personal.

In my own case, my belief system says to make people like me, and do things that encourage them liking me, so when I do something that doesn’t make people like me, there is a feeling of guilt.  It is brief, and so quick, that if I hadn’t read and thought a little about guilt, I wouldn’t have even noticed it, but it is there.  And here is what I learned.  It is this guilt that motivates my action.

Meaning, that I have been thinking that I am motivated to nice action to make people like me.  However, in truth, I have learned that the motivating factor is to be nice, so I don’t have that feeling of guilt, which is so very uncomfortable.   Ironically, this is probably a learned reaction to being told to be nice by my parents (and society) and rewarded for good behavior.

At this point, there are really two ways to help myself.  One is to fix the belief that people need to like me.  They don’t.  However, many would argue that this is impractical, since man is a social being, and wanting to be being liked is probably a healthy thing.  Now like many truths, the answer is probably in the middle.  But I’m not sure that this really is 100% a fixable belief.

But the insight that guilt is the driver, gives another touch point from which I can manage myself.

Now that I can feel the guilt that I am trying to avert, I can take action to take more productive action based on the right thing, and not an automatic reaction to suppress guilt.  Of course, this new realization was only possible once I was consciously aware of my negative thoughts, but now that I have this consciousness, I think it will allow me a great tool to taking those actions that I feel are appropriate – and ignoring my own natural guilt.

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