Dawn Cove Abbey
Deerfield, (Yarmouth County) Nova Scotia, Canada, Rev: 2009-2019
GUILT - the paralyzing emotion
An introduction to
Appropriate and Inappropriate Guilt:
what it is, and how to deal with it
|People who really want to heal,
will find a way;
those who aren't ready yet,
will find an excuse.
Inappropriate Guilt: taking-on ownership of someone else's actions. This is where we are left
feeling, or are made to feel, by others that we are responsible for something we actually did not do
or say. It means others are trying to shift their blame onto you, and avoiding responsibility and
ownership of their actions. We don’t own inappropriate guilt, nor are we responsible for it. Whatever
was said or done was their choice. It is a form of guilt that is not normal, good or natural: it is
extremely common. It leaves you with paralyzing indecision!
Because of that, and because that is so common, there are many people who feel guilty most of the
time. They spend much of their time doing things they don't really want to do, just to avoid feeling
guilty: except it never quite works for them. This is because it wasn’t theirs to “fix” in the first place
(see Fixer Role).
There are different reasons why we feel guilty.
We feel guilty (appropriately) when we have done something that violates one of our own (or
society's) ethical or moral values. As a result, we hold ourselves responsible for something we did
or said: accepting ownership and responsibility for our actions (that is "appropriate" guilt). It shows
responsibility and ownership.
From childhood on we learned beliefs about what is right and what is wrong, and integrated those
beliefs into who we are: we accepted them without actually thinking about them. Our families—
parents, grandparents, and siblings—along with school, friends, and other life experiences, all
contributed to this process. Because of that complex history, we may not be aware exactly how we
come to believe a particular act is right or wrong: it’s unconscious – and can be very harmful to us.
We are not responsible for other people's choices!
Yet, some of our sense of guilt comes from being made to feel as if it is we who are solely and
choices of other people (that's inappropriate guilt). We need to remember that their choices aren’t
ours to make. It isn’t our responsibility to “fix” the consequences of someone else’s choices. We are
not responsible for the choices they make – so to avoid guilt, don’t accept that responsibility or
ownership. When we find excuses for their choices, and try to “fix” the consequences for them, we
are engaging in a denial-enabling situation: at worst, we become codependent. We all have to learn
to accept that we have to live with choices others make – whether we like those choices, approve of
them, or whatever.
How do others play on your feelings of guilt?
People can and sometimes try to make You feel responsible for, and take ownership of their actions
words or failures. They will (try to):
* Make you believe they will suffer greatly if you do not respond positively to their request(s).
* Call on your guilt to respond to their requests, even when it means violating your rights.
* Respond to your irrational self by reinforcing your irrational thinking, giving you a sense of blame,
for past, present, or future actions. * Build up a verbal or imagined scenario that portrays you at
fault for inaction, thus guaranteeing your sense of guilt and your willingness to do anything to
* Accuse you of misdeeds, words, or actions to arouse your sense of guilt and make you believe
you are the one with a problem in an interpersonal relationship difficulty. (This effectively takes
the pressure off of them.)
* Reinforce your negative self-perceptions, encouraging you to be guilt ridden and self-judgmental
for their benefit.
* Build a case with moral absolutes to convince you of the "right way'' to do things, avoiding that
negative feeling of guilt for themselves.
* Set up situations for you in which you will believe your alternatives are limited to that which
results in the least sense of guilt.
* Feign or fake hardship, illness, discomfort, unhappiness, incompetence, or other negative
behavior to arouse your sense of guilt and have you take over those tasks, or duties bringing
imagined negative consequences for them. * Threaten negative consequences, like going to jail,
to the hospital, to the juvenile detention center, failing school, dying, or divorcing you. This
manipulation uses your guilt to benefit them.
|Dawn Cove Abbey
"Roadside Assistance" For Your Journey Through Life
- Dedicated to helping people return (and maintain) sanity and decency to life -
From the eBook: "One! The Journey hOMe", by Klaas Tuinman M.A © 2007-2019
Questions and comments welcomed.
Guilt is one of the most misunderstood and mis-used words (and concepts and "actions/behaviour")
in our lives. The way it is, and has been used, has turned it into two different things: both a
"burden" and a "weapon". And therefore, it has become something negative, and dysfunctional that
many, if not most, people, experience and deal with much of their lives.
To really understand just how deeply dysfunctional and misplaced "Guilt" really is, due to its misuse,
we need to look briefly at the origin and history of the word, and its subsequent evolution into its
current use in our shaming/blaming dysfunctional cultures).
The word "guilt" traces back to Old English - where it was used both as a noun and a verb. In its
noun form it meant; crime, sin, moral defect, failure of duty, an offense, violation, or wrong,
especially against moral or penal law; culpability". This is more or less "appropriate" guilt.
Which expands into: "he admitted his guilt": as in "a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some
offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined; in other words, accepting ownership of
words and/or deeds. This is also an "appropriate" usage of "guilt".
And in its verb form it meant; "to influence someone by appealing to his sense of guiltiness (to
accept the ownership"", which is still in the "appropriate" domain. However, it is far more commonly
mis-used, either by dwelling/focussing on the guilt, or to shift blame from themselves onto another
person - as in, "he/she tried to guilt me into pleasing or appeasing them", or "he/she was laying a
guilt trip on me"; in other words, in its verb form, guilt is frequently/often used as manipulation;
which is the inappropriate form.
Of course, taking ownership (pleading guilty to an act, or words) is considered to be an appropriate,
"correct" action - if it is sincere and authentic, in all cultures.
To sum up the above: in a blaming, shaming culture such as the one we live in, there are two forms
of guilt, so to speak: appropriate and inappropriate. This results in the problem of people continually
confusing the two,which tends to lead into the dilemma of often taking on guilt and blame for things
that are not theirs in the first place.
Appropriate Guilt: is taking ownership of our actions. This is where we accept the deed's (or
words') ownership: we own it, we are responsible for it - it was our choice: appropriate guilt is
natural, good and normal, because it shows a healthy sense of responsibility and taking ownership
(or as it is usually called, “blame”). To take Personal Ownership is being, and holding yourself fully
accountable for results that matter to you, and for which you are responsible: you take full
responsibility for your actions and accept accountability for the results you produce.
It is about controlling events rather than being controlled by events. Learning how to take
Personal Ownership requires a transformation in thinking; it involves responsibility, choices and
consequences, assertiveness and self-worth (self esteem) etc. Wholeness is a necessary part of being
fully human, and by nurturing the inner child with love and listening, as a parent would do, balance
of mind, body and spirit can be created – through taking ownership and control.
Technically, Guilt is "proven", or admitted, legitimate ownership of, or responsibility for, some action,
deeds or words. However, in a fear and shame based culture, it is often used to place undeserved
"blame" for things that are not actually yours to take ownership of. That is inappropriate guilt. To
give in to that, creates irrational beliefs and mental anguish.
Guilt is about:
Feeling of responsibility for negative circumstances that have befallen yourself or others, if applicable.
Feeling of regret for your real or imagined misdeeds, both past and present. A sense of remorse for
thoughts, feelings, or attitudes that were or are negative, uncomplimentary, or non-accepting
concerning yourself or others. Feeling of obligation for not pleasing, not helping, or not placating
another. Feeling of bewilderment and lack of balance for not responding to a situation in your typical,
Feeling of loss and shame for not having done or said something to someone who is no longer
available to you. Accepting of responsibility for someone else's misfortune or problem because it
bothers you to see that person suffer. Motivator to amend all real or perceived wrongs. Strong moral
sense of right and wrong that inhibits you from choosing a "wrong'' course of action; however, you
assign your own definitions to the words. Driving force or mask behind which irrational beliefs hide.
These allow you to assess whether or not they are accurate, and whether or not you are responsible,
or need to take ownership: in other words, to discern whether it appropriate, or inappropriate.
|Guilt was never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind,
it perverts them, it leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason,
it puts him into confusion. ~Edmund Burke