Guilt is a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong (From <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guilt> ). Do you at times feel guilty for things you’ve done, or for things you assume are your fault even when they may not be? Do you beat yourself down because you are unable to overcome the guilt you feel? I have struggled with guilt many times and I still find myself struggling with it at times. I remember for a long time I would felt guilty for being very happy, yet deep down in my heart, I wanted that happy feeling to last. I grew up believing that it’s sinful to be too happy, yet I never knew why.
Reading a book about self-esteem has helped me realize that most of the so-called guilt I experience have something to do with the disapproval or condemnation of significant others (my family, close friends, my leaders, etc). The book, ‘How to Raise Your Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden explains that often when someone says, ‘I feel guilty over such and such thing’, what that person is really meaning, but rarely acknowledges is that, ‘I am afraid that if mom or dad or my partner, or my pastor knew about what I have done, I would be criticized’. Often the person does not regard the action wrong, in which case, it’s not guilt that he/she is feeling. What Nathaniel advocates for in this case is that, each person needs to respect one’s own judgment above the beliefs of others that you do not genuinely share (though you may pretend to).
It is therefore important to first of all honor oneself, to honor one’s own beliefs, values and standards. It is important to ask yourself, ‘what do I consider as my own standards and why? Ask yourself, If I were to be honest with myself and tap into my inner being; why would I consider this thing right or wrong? You will be amazed discovering that the many things you hold as your own values and beliefs, are actually not yours, but rather those that have been passed on to you by others you consider have more authority over you. Yet, your inner self believes otherwise. What Nathaniel’s book has taught me is to question what I value and believe and why on a continuous basis. As I get to understand more, the beliefs I hold or follow and why, I begin to get more comfortable to live by them without feeling guilty, even when my understanding is different from those of significant others, knowing that I am first responsible to myself, then others.
I feel like many of us either fear to explore who we really are, or are accustomed to a version of who we are based on other people’s views about us ( the person we’ve become by wanting to please others and feel accepted). This way, you will never be happy since significant others’ view of the ideal you, will keep changing depending on their needs, which are often changing. On reflection, I feel that the desire to always want to please others without knowing why, held me back from becoming truly me, knowing and consciously pursuing my destiny. One thing that has helped me overcome this guilt is learning not to judge myself. This led me to be comfortable to be honest with myself, even though some things I discover about myself may surprise me. I have found that in moments I’ve chosen to be honest with myself, I have felt like a free person and more gracious with my behavior and that of others (which includes their choice of values). As I acknowledged and became more honest with my feelings, I became free to question ideas, beliefs, values, etc, that I hold (often passed on to me by significant others). I believe this is what is the foundation for personal responsibility and independence. What has been most challenging for me in this process is dependency, more specifically fear to upset what appears to be stable relationships with others, as I assert or behave according to my own understanding and personal identity (beliefs and values).
Remember, each one of us was created for a particular purpose and therefore who we truly are as individuals is adequate to fulfil that purpose. We tend to feel compelled to please others in order to sustain relationships with significant others. But, if your choice of behavior is to primarily please others without knowing why (from your own understanding), how will you discover who you are, what you truly believe, and later on fulfil your purpose? I believe that if there is mutual care between significant others and I, we will give each other space, acceptance and respect for our different beliefs, values and choices in life. Do not let yourself be overcome by fear of being different and being yourself, do not allow guilt of being who you are stop you from achieving your goals, your interests which are more likely to be tied to your purpose in life.
Here is my contribution which might to help you begin overcome this kind of guilt:
- Learn to be honest with yourself; you are first of all responsible to you, for you
- Start questioning the values, beliefs and standards you hold or follow and why in your quest to find out what is true for you
- Begin to feel ok being different and not perfect, because we all are different and imperfect anyhow. I believe all our lives are a process of learning and getting closer to the truth about life
- Be patient with yourself, you cannot change your life from dependency to independence in just a snap of a finger, but ideally, you need to learn to be interdependent, which is not easy if you haven’t gained your own sense of identity and independence
- You are ok the way you are at present, and so are others. We all are on a journey of life lessons, no one has arrived yet, including those you look up to.