“We are on strike against the doctrine that life is guilt.” Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.
Don’t Feel Guilty – It Keeps You Awake At Night.
“PERSPECTIVES” are excerpts from my forthcoming book of the same name, available from Partridge Publications early 2015
Everyone makes mistakes. Great sports people take the blow, miss the shot, lose a point – but do not let it disturb their rhythm for fear of repeating it. Remaining fixated on the rear view mirror is not a smart way to move forward.
This is also true of Life: To make a mistake and then foolishly keep beating yourself up over it wins no prizes and may in fact lead to more mistakes. Remain positive and concentrate on your next action, which is more worthy of your attention – in the old adage of “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again” but this time with the power of hindsight.
Persistent feelings of guilt will weaken your immune system and shorten your life.
Medically speaking it increases your cortisol level, which is good for a “fight or flight” response but constant high levels of it increases your blood pressure and with it the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke whilst raising your level of anxiety which oftentimes also lead to bouts of depression.
Guilt serves two purposes – one positive the other negative.
Positively guilt can be seen and used as a learning tool: Think. Analyze. Resolve. Learn. Forgive. Move on.
On the flip side, callous manipulators with exploitive disorders will often abuse a person who suffers from negative guilt by oppressing, manipulating and even blackmailing them – through either action or in-action, even physical threat – by letting the guilt-bearer feel responsible for causing pain or suffering to the manipulator. The manipulator may even create the guilt-feeling for their own purposes.
Case in point: I recently come to know about a husband who was having an extra-marital affair – which he blamed on his wife – and threatened to beat their children if she does not let him carry on with the affair!
Do not fall into this trap, and if you are it, get out of it fast. You are worthy of your own life, own thoughts, own actions and own mistakes – for which you obviously should also be willing to take responsibility.
- Bottom line: Do not be a slave to your own guilt or to someone else’s manipulation or blackmail.
Constant feelings of guilty can eventually lead to mental illness.
Put matters in context, especially if it stems from locked-in childhood or young adulthood actions or inactions. It is important that you see matters in perspective and find the reason for your guilt feelings – which might in fact be external to yourself.
- Act: Forgive yourself – time to move on.
People often accumulate guilt throughout their lives due to own behavior, actions and in-actions as well as failure to meet other people’s and society’s expectations.
They blame themselves for mistakes, faults and past nuances which they later regret. At times it is profoundly expressed in self-hurting actions. At other times it is subliminal, slowly drip-eroding them, affecting self-esteem, embedding feelings of inadequacy, apologizing for the smallest of things and even other people’s mistakes – resulting in an apologetic life, seeing themselves as second to others, and searching for constant validation.
Such a state of self-worthlessness takes time to resolve – and some may never achieve it.
BUT it is important to start the journey back to sanity and self-worth: analyze it, confront it, resolve it, and move on to positive thoughts and actions with which to reclaim your birthright and re-anchor your life.
I cannot say it any better than Aldous Huxley in Brave New World: “Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”
Our conscience serves as a moral compass – though it may not always point due North.
It imposes joy or pain – as the case may be – to reinforce what we view as good behavior and makes us regret where and when we see ourselves as failing.
- It is important, though, to realize that – as human beings – we are also worthy of freeing ourselves from past shackles and move on.
From a religious perspective, sin – not guilt – is seen as the element of transgression. Guilt is the symptom and wake-up call that alerts us to our transgressions and prods us to positively seek forgiveness and absolution – which different religions deal with in either personal or communal rituals.
- Guilt can shorten your life.
- Guilt can serve both positive and negative purposes.
- Being continuously consumed by guilt can lead to mental illness.
- We derive guilt though behavior, actions in-actions and failure to meet others expectations.
- “Chronic remorse …… is a most undesirable sentiment” – Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World”.
- As human beings we are worthy of freeing ourselves from the past and moving on.
- Use guilt as a learning tool.
- Do not be a slave to your own guilt or to another party’s manipulation.
- See matters in perspective and find the reason for your guilt – it may be external to yourself.
- Analyze your guilt, confront it, resolve it, and move on to positive thoughts and actions.
- Do not brood and agonize over your wrong-doings.
- Realize that you are a human being – with human failings and the ability to learn from it.