The Fear of Guilt

As Lorean and I are raising our daughter Madelyn, the choices we make for her seem to be non-stop. With my ties to psychology and obsessions with neurological development, I am known to overthink decisions every once in a while, (or all the time according to Lorean as well as reality). We are trying to provide a loving environment where our daughter can maintain her sense of peace while experiencing the world around her. Decisions including:

Food: times, temperatures, quantities, introductions, allergies, etc.

Sleep: times, habits, positions, environments, consistency, etc.

Family: times, obligations, travels, vacations, meals, etc.

Medical: appointments, doctors, research, medications, etc.

Babysitting: times, cost, selection, etc.

…can be overwhelming from time to time (or all the time). So, then I start to ponder the inevitable question: Am I doing what is right for her as well as what is right for us and the people around us?

Unfortunately, that question doesn’t have an answer.

Am I doing what is right for her as well as what is right for us and the people around us?

The black and white assessment of right and wrong is an overwhelming weight to carry. If the standard is locked at the unreachable (right) perfection, it would be more accurately described as impossible. The impossible scenario often leads to the feeling of guilt, and with habit and more thought, the guilt is enhanced with fear.

Guilt

According to Merriam Webster, guilt is defined as “feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy”. First, let’s assess the components of this definition in more detail:

‘Feelings of deserving blame’

When you feel that you deserve to be blamed, you are identifying yourself as the cause of the negative situation. The feelings associated with this label include fear for the situation itself, and fear for the potential guilt which may occur. There is a potential of experiencing more guilt. Therefore, the feeling of guilt is compounded into a more overwhelming feeling.

‘Imagined offenses’

Something may happen in the future which the family, friends, group, coworkers, or whoever else will not be happy about. There is a fear that the something will happen, and there is a preconceived guilt regarding the potential experience. Personal blame is anticipated due to situational involvement.

‘Sense of inadequacy’

This sense of inadequacy may be a bigger issue to tackle, and it is important to jump right to the specific root of the feeling of inadequacy:

[Let’s imagine I am currently experiencing extreme cycles of the fear of guilt. That was a fairly negative introduction to this topic, and I am personally feeling a little down about things after that analysis. Surely if I am feeling negative then everyone else who reads those descriptions will also be feeling negative. If there is already a fear of guilt factor within the reader I don’t want to impose more negative feelings. I am feeling anxious that the reader will not benefit from my attempt to help. Somehow, I have to make things better for the reader. Everyone will probably end up worse than where they started. I need to delete this whole thing and start over. It would probably be best if I just didn’t post anything on this website. At this moment I am feeling some tension in my neck. My palms are starting to sweat. I am thinking about other faults I have, and I am wandering further into how these faults may have a negative impact on other people.]

If you can identify with similar feelings related to work, parenting, relationships, family, etc., then I have a few considerations and self-assessment work for you.

Considerations

First, let’s take some time to assess the bigger picture. Whether the situation is a couple years within the 4 million years of human existence, or the situation impacts a small group of individuals within the 7-billion-person population of the current earth, it could be argued that the ‘imagined offense’ is not of significant magnitude. Yes, all lives are important, and all time is valuable. Therefore, your time should be allocated for sharing positivity within yourself and with those around you.

Another perspective of the bigger picture might be related to the wrath of your religious leader and/or God Himself. Many religious followers and leaders have thoroughly implanted a fear within the minds of children who accept the affiliation (before their minds are able to differentiate rational choice). Thus, it may be rational to fear the potential scenarios which may damn you to hell. My apologies for sliding right back into a spin of negativity…..

Spirituality offers another helpful perspective of the bigger picture. The following Bible verse from the book of Matthew is one of the most important as well as a personal favorite:

“Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.”

This is a very simple and profound message with 3 important take home points:

1. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind

Your spiritual journey must remain fully encompassed within your love for God. Obsessions over personal and/or community issues will distract you from loving God.

2. Love others as much as you love yourself.

Your love for God and your spiritual journey will become distorted and distracted if you do not also share your love with yourself and the people around you.

3. Love yourself

This crucial message is usually grouped with the previous point, especially in the context of current Christian religions. Within the quote the statement was phrased as if loving yourself would be easy and inevitable. Although immediate personal satisfaction could be argued as our current social norm, it has become easy to disconnect from the true love of our human self. I will write more about this later, but personal satisfaction tends to outweigh self-love too much of the time.

If you have fully dedicated your heart, soul, and mind to loving God and loving others as much as you love yourself, guilt is minimized. This love is a holistic entity of belonging which is more than right and wrong, it is different than the social norm, and it is a fulfilling experience.

Before we move on, it is important to first clarify a common misconception of love. The picture of yourself which you have created, your ego, will not support lasting or meaningful love. Unfortunately, it is easy to become trapped within our ego. We try to optimize feelings we have for our created sense of self, and these feelings are usually dependent on the guessed opinions of the people around us. The true entity of lasting and meaningful love becomes confusing and clouded. Personal satisfaction jumps up to become the primary concern, and there is an unhealthy dependence on the ‘love’ that other people have for you. Guessing how much you are loved and feeling guilty when optimal levels aren’t reached (or when there is a chance they won’t be reached) becomes habit.

It is time to break the guilt habit and resolve the underlying fear of guilt. Hopefully the enormous time-frame of human existence, the massive human population, and the full dedication of heart, soul, and mind references were helpful, but let’s identify some specific times when you feel the guilt and tackle the issue!

Self Assessment

What specific experiences initiate the cycle of guilt?

Has the situation actually occurred?

If the answer is yes, then you can move on to the next question. If you want to gain more control over the feeling of guilt, or if the answer is no, then it might be best to understand that many future scenarios ranging from the happiness of new life through the emotions surrounding death are quite possible. It is best to fully experience the present moment and share your love with the people around you.

Are you sure you are the primary cause?

If the answer is yes, then it may be more efficient to discuss the situation with the person or group before the negative situation occurs. If the answer is no, then it might be beneficial to simply experience the partly negative event with an open mind.

Do you feel that you have not prepared well enough for the situation?

It might be beneficial to simply experience the partly negative event with an open mind. If you feel that better preparation would have been beneficial, imagine this as a learning experience which will guide you through the process of preparation for future events.

Do you feel that you are incapable of preparing well enough for the situation?

This is a self-esteem or sense of self-worth issue if you feel that your preparing is always or inevitably lacking. Depending on the accuracy of your assessment as well as the level of the feeling, it may be beneficial to tackle these issues with counseling and other appropriate activities. On the other hand, if I were signed up to run a marathon tomorrow, I would certainly be having that feeling. I have not adequately prepared my body to run the marathon, and that would probably be too taxing for my body to handle. I would have to make a firm decision to either withdraw from the marathon, or pack a couple meals and plenty of water as I begin my casual 8 hour, 26.2 mile walk.

The overall goal is to focus on sharing and experiencing love. Therefore, when the feelings of guilt arise it is best to immediately tackle the issue. Here are a couple options to consider:

Stop participating in the experience if the guilt association is inevitable or it is not in your best interest.

Take a deep breath and accept each moment of experience for just that moment. Your assessment of potential scenarios is now complete, and the step-wise sequence of future events may or may not take place as you have foreseen. Either way it will be a learning experience and it will be a valuable experience for you.

The fix will not happen overnight, and you will have to remake your choice hundreds of times until it becomes natural for you. As you practice the valuable experience of self-growth, it is always helpful to focus on the positives. This applies to yourself and the potential situations which trigger the fear/guilt response.

What positive qualities are you bringing to the situation which may present potential challenges?

What characteristics about the upcoming situation may be interesting, valuable, or beneficial to yourself or others?

If you believe you will start to see progress, that is likely what will happen. However, if there are specific situations which you cannot overcome, it may be beneficial to ask yourself the deeper question: What are the specific reasons I cannot overcome the cycle of guilt within that specific situation? More importantly: What steps do I need to take to overcome the cycle of guilt for that specific situation?

As always, I look forward to hearing your feedback. Please leave a comment.

Author: Daniel Miller

With experience in the different fields of chemistry and psychology, I hope to share some thought provoking personal well-being topics related to physical health, psychology, rational thought, and spirituality.

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