Why we Suffer from Guilt

By Amita Quenim

Normally a day never ends without the feeling of guilt cropping up. A child may have dropped his breakfast in the bin and mom praises him for eating it all so fast. A husband comes home late, since he has spent an extra hour out with his friends, and tells his wife, “The traffic was bad”. The wife stays on for two extra days with her parents because she wants to be with them but tells her in-laws that her parents were not well. None of the above statements were true, each individual had to make up a story and get away with the unpleasant consequences. But how comfortable are they with the false statements? They always feel guilty and this feeling of guilt later develops into a habit or you can say it becomes the weapon of the weak.

Guilt is a feeling related to past behaviour – about something that has already happened. It’s a tool used to destroy your peace of mind. No one enjoys making up stories, but circumstances may sometimes force a person to do so. It’s actually a burden on your mind when you don’t speak the truth, which slowly gets converted to a feeling of guilt. A feeling that makes an individual feel weaker and dependent. Weaker because he finds it difficult to cope up with his actions and dependent because his guilt is connected to other persons expectations.

One side of guilt is when a person knows that he is not comfortable with his own past act, and the other side of guilt is when it is used as a weapon to get the expected reaction or behaviour from another individual. That means a person reacts to situations not out of his or her own will but due to forced behaviour.

A young boy, who is convinced that God would dislike him if he does not go to the temple once a week, is taught to feel guilty if he basically goes against your values. In a case like that, guilt through fear has been introduced. If a young girl chooses a boyfriend which the parents may disapprove, they are teaching her to become immobilized and upset over their reactions to her. Then again when she is told by her parents, “Some day you will have to pay for the pain you are causing us by the wrong choice you have made.” Can you imagine her state, when actually she may be doing a normal thing of making her own choice? This reaction from parents causes her to experience inner doubt and anxiety over her own choice which is sure to make her uncomfortable and feel guilty.

There are varieties of guilt which people experience. Parents manipulate children with it and in time to come children do the same to the parents. They attend religious services that parents impose on them, since they do not want to hurt their parents. They also choose friends as their parents want. This is a matter of fact in any other relationship also, be it husband and wife or two friends or even father and son.

Eventually they become consumed by the fear of retribution in the form of guilt. They soon develop an understanding of what you disapprove of, and start living their lives as programmed computers rather then a life of free and rational thinking. Guilt becomes an irresponsible choice. They learn to feel bad and guilty whenever they do things that you dislike.

If you use guilt on children regularly, it will soon be used on you. For eg: “Thanks a lot dad for forgetting to buy my cricket bat today after your work.” or, “Thanks a lot mom for not making my favourite dish for lunch today.” These kinds of guilt producing sentiments flow commonly from individuals who have grown up with guilt.

As William James said, “Faith is one of the forces by which men live, and the total absence of it means collapse.” A healthy way to live a free and simple life is by making others realize that you have the right to choose, however others sure have the right to bring the wrong to your notice. As long as you are aware and conscious of your duties towards yourself and towards others whom you are answerable to, you can live away from the feelings of guilt. Let people accept you for what you are rather then what they want you to be. But for that remember your own self acceptance and faith, is very important.

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