Monday, March 7, 2016

Why do we feel guilty?

Do you struggle with guilt?  For me, the answer is "ALL THE TIME".  I'm quite an expert at feeling guilty.  I feel guilty about the way I parent.  I feel guilty about the smallest infractions.  I feel guilty because I'm not in perfect health yet.  I even feel guilty about feeling guilty because I've read a lot of self-help books that said "there's no need to feel guilty!"

But if there really is no need to feel guilty, the question remains - "why do we?"  It doesn't make sense to me, evolution-wise, to develop an ability to feel guilty if all it's going to do is make us feel stress and age our bodies prematurely.  There MUST be an advantage to feeling guilt.  So, I decided to delve deeper.

First of all, what is guilt?  It's that nagging, self-consuming shame that we did something wrong.  And when do we feel guilt?  Usually, it's when you fail to meet an expectation or a higher standard.  Who makes us feel guilty?  The answer to this one is a little tricky.  A lot of the expectations and standards are absorbed from the people around you, from what you were taught in schools, and from the culture you grew up in.  So, it's easy to blame others for the guilt we feel, but the truth is, we are the ones who bought into those standards and are judging ourselves against them.  Finally, why do we feel guilty?  I think it's because there's a desire within you to meet that expectation.  I mean, if you were suddenly told by a complete stranger, "I expect you to eat 100 hamburgers everyday," would you feel guilty for not meeting that expectation?

After considering all of this, I realized that we indeed have a use for guilt.  We actually have control over whether to feel guilty or not, and we can use the guilt to improve ourselves.  First, determine if the standards and expectations you are judging yourself against actually serve you.  It's possible that you are holding on to an expectation like the "100 hamburgers" simply because that's what you've been taught.  Once you take a good look at it, you may realize that iit really doesn't do you any good. 

Next, if you still find that you have expectations and standards that you would like to meet, not because you want to meet someone else's expectations, but because you want to evolve and become a better person, then treat these guilt as your alarm clock.  See it as a wake up call your soul.  But just like you need a little time to become fully awake, you are going to need a little time to wake up.  Don't feel discouraged if you need to hit the snooze button a few times.  Once in a while, you may find yourself deep asleep again, but eventually, you'll get to a point where it won't feel so difficult to get up.

In the meantime, don't forget to give yourself credit for the progress you have made.  Becoming aware of your shortcomings is a huge step forward. 

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