When Guilt Is A Good Thing
You should be ashamed of yourself. Go apologize to Uncle Henry for telling him that he’s bald.
What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you go to your friend’s party? You should feel bad.
Maybe you’ve heard something like this growing up or even recently.
You were told you should feel bad for your behaviours or something you said. You should apologize for something you didn’t even know was “wrong” or hurtful. You were told that you were inappropriate. That your behaviours were “bad”.
And, you did. You apologized for something not even knowing why.
This is “bad” or unhealthy guilt. This is the guilt that you are told to feel, but you really don’t feel bad or even know why you should apologize. But now you feel bad because you were told to feel bad.
“Bad” or unhealthy guilt comes from FOG – fear, obligation, and guilt.
This is when you feel guilty because you’re afraid to lose someone or something. You’re worried your boss will be mad at you or upset with you if you ask to go to an appointment. You fear losing a relationship or respect if you don’t go to your friend’s party. You feel obligated to say sorry or make amends, not because you feel bad in your heart, but because someone told you to do it, like your family member or an authority figure. You might feel shamed or guilt-tripped into doing something you don’t want to do.
This is how the FOG – fear, obligation and guilt – takes over.
This guilt comes from a place of pressure, expectation, burden, and obligation. This “bad” guilt is programmed into your brain by other people – manipulative colleagues, guilt wielding parents, passive-aggressive partners, sarcastic strangers.
This FOG-like, “bad” guilt comes from the ego-mind. You THINK you should feel bad, so you act on the thoughts and the “bad” guilt.
But, you never feel good about this kind of guilt. And, nothing good ever comes from obligatory, unhealthy guilt. Ever.
“Good” healthy guilt, however, is when you have done something that you truly have remorse about.
Maybe you hurt someone’s feelings inadvertently or you blew up and said something you wish you could take back. Maybe you made a mistake or spoke out of turn. You want a do-over so you can say it in a more loving, respectful way. So, you can make amends.
“Good” guilt is the guilt that you feel in your heart. You truly are sorry and remorseful. This is “good” guilt because, when you feel regret and a sense of sorrow, its highly unlikely that you will do it again.
HOW DO YOU GET RID OF GUILT?
When you allow yourself to feel the pang of heartfelt guilt, you create the opportunity to be emotionally vulnerable, honest, and raw. This is your chance to own your mistake and make amends. Not from an, I’m a bad person, perspective. But from an, I see you and your pain and I’m sorry, perspective.
The difference is, “good’ guilt allows you to recognize the other person’s hurt and pain, acknowledge your part, and take responsibility to make amends and move forward.
“Bad” guilt is so hell-bent on finding a bad guy that you drown in the shame and embarrassment. You become so pressured with expectations that all you want to do is defend yourself or hide. This accomplishes NOTHING. Except, now everyone feels like crap.
If you’re beating yourself up and avoiding the apology, you’re allowing the pain and guilt to take hold of you. This will for sure grow and drown you. The quicker you observe and correct your mistake, the faster you and the other person can be free from the pain.
If you apologize with a whole string of excuses and explanations, you might be turning the guilt around onto the other person. Creating yourself into the victim. This is NOT an apology. An apology is heart-felt, loving, and freeing for everyone.
3 STEPS TO AN APOLOGY
Just own it.
Recognize and accept your less-than-perfect behaviour.
Remember that your behaviour does not define you.
Everyone makes mistakes, has hurt another person, has spoken out of turn.
No one is perfect.
Use the words, “I’m sorry”.
Make your apology short, sweet and to the point.
Avoid excuses and explanations.
If there needs to be a discussion, this can happen at a later time.
3. Release BOTH of you from the pain.
The quicker you address and apologize, the quicker you can release the shame and pain.
An honest, heart-felt apology means you are not allowing the guilt to bind to either one of you.
Make amends. Right your wrongs.
Understand and honour the other person’s feelings.
Know that your mistakes do not make you a “bad” person.
I hope you found this blog helpful.
Let me know how “good” guilt has motivated you to make amends.
If you’re struggling to release “bad” guilt and unhealthy FOG pressures, call or email to book a counselling appointment today. Discover the underlying self-talk that could be keeping you stuck.