What I have in common with the character in ‘Truman’ is this incredible need to please people. I feel like I want to take care of everyone and I also feel this terrible guilt if I am unable to. - Jim Carrey
Where Is Your Guilt Coming From?
Whenever we feel that certain remorse for doing something bad, we’re either measuring our behavior based on our own standards, or we’re allowing other people’s standards to question our own beliefs on what is right and what is wrong.
Though we do have to be firm with our own standards of goodness, the perspective of other people on the matter do provide us with periodic checks that help us validate our own moral code. Have we been overlooking something which other people see? What are some of the blind spots we need to address in our own conscience?
Without guilt, this world would be a more dangerous place to be, filled with people with no remorse whatsoever for all the harmful things they’ve done, unaffected even by the pleas of other people who got hurt and damaged along the way. Just think of the psychopaths who can get away with mass murder without flinching a bit. It’s frightening to even imagine such a world where conscience and guilt do not exist.
Hard though it may be to accept, remember that guilt is sometimes a friendly internal voice reminding you that you’re messing up. – Marge Kennedy
We do mess up a lot of times, and we should be thankful for that internal voice guiding us so we could appropriately correct the wrong that we have done.
Setting Appropriate Boundaries
There are times however, when other people could use this same feeling of guilt in order to manipulate us, maybe not consciously, but in one way or the other, we’re influenced to an extent that is no longer healthy for us.
This is especially true for people who have great empathy for others, those who could feel other people’s pain as though it were their own.
When they say no to other people’s expectations, they feel that they have let those people down, and they feel guilty.
As a result, they’d rather sacrifice their own good just to avoid letting other people down. They take on more responsibilities, they sacrifice their time, they spend all their energy until they get drained and feel exhausted.
What they fail to realize is that by hurting themselves, they also risk hurting other people in the long run! Sooner or later, they’d feel so drained they’d have nothing left to give anymore. What’s worse is when they get tempted to play the blame-game, blaming other people for making them do things they never wanted to do in the first place.
Let us be humble enough to acknowledge our own limitations and let us give other people the opportunity to be responsbile for themselves. If we continue to do more than is necessary for other people, we may actually be hindering their growth and their ability to take care of their own selves.
True guilt is guilt at the obligation one owes to oneself to be oneself. False guilt is guilt felt at not being what other people feel one ought to be or assume that one is. R. D. Laing
While it may be true that we don’t want to let other people down, we can’t always be responsible for their own way of thinking. They may think we’re refusing them something we have the capacity of giving them. They may think we don’t care. But only we could truly know how much we really care and how much we could give without sacrificing our own good.
Our Need For Approval
If we find it so difficult to set the necessary boundaries between our own and other people’s expectations of us, we may try to ask ourselves why we’re finding it so hard to do so. Is it because in truth, we are relying on other people’s approval in order to validate our own self-esteem? Whenever we’re not able to please other people, do we feel rejected as well? Do we feel worthless?
If we become dependent upon other people’s approval in order to validate our own self worth, then even our own moral standards may become prejudiced in the end. Why? Because such standards will no longer be based on an impartial and independent set of measures we have set for our own lives.
Our guilt, in order to be a useful signal for our morality, should be based on a clear and firm foundation of values we truly believe in, not a mixed feeling triggered by our fear of rejection and our need for other people’s approval. The next time you feel guilty, try to ask yourself, where is this guilt really coming from?
I’m not doing my philanthropic work, out of any kind of guilt, or any need to create good public relations. I’m doing it because I can afford to do it, and I believe in it. – George Soros