Are You Guilty of Too Much Guilt?
By definition, guilt is the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.
In psychology, guilt refers to an emotion where an individual feels responsible for some action or inaction that is PERCEIVED as having negative results.
Guilt creates self-critical thoughts, making it difficult to think clearly, creating stressful resentments and self-punishing behavior.
Just because you feel bad after doing something or saying something doesn’t make you guilty. Sometimes the tough actions are the right actions.
Let’s take the case of a single mother who stated, “I feel guilty when I leave the kids to go out with friends.”
She works from home to be there when the kids come home from daycare or school. Her hours are such that she starts her workday early, so she has time in the afternoon to spend quality time with them. The father takes them on a less-than-regular schedule.
Should she feel guilty about leaving them with others to spend time with friends? My verdict is not guilty.
If you’re skeptical, consider this: By seeing other friends, she takes care of herself. Spending time with people who care about us (in this case, her friends) is nurturing, which fills her need to be seen and appreciated as a person.
This small act of self-care may improve her relationship with her kids.
Additionally, this single mother is setting an example that it is ok to spend time with friends.
How many kids feel badly leaving a lonely parent to spend time with friends because they feel they are their parent’s only companion? I have known more than one. Balancing time with family and friends sets a healthy example for children.
Let’s consider this in the real world
I live across the street from a large park. The play structure for children is within the line of sight from our home.
The children of parents who play with their kids climb the ladder to go down the swirly slide exude excitement and have a playful interaction with the parents. The parents are present as they spend time with their children.
The children of the parents who are glued to their cell phones are not nearly as joyful.
It can be sad to see a child cry out to their parent, “Look at me!” as they hang from the rings. Barely tearing their eyes from the screen of their phone, their response of “That’s great” appears as a vain attempt to be present in their child’s life.
If the latter were the case, guilty feelings might be justified as to how time was spent with the child. The distinction is how the time is spent rather than the amount of time.
Removing the Guilt
When you feel guilty, ask yourself, “Have I done something for which I need to apologize or compensate?” or “Are there actions or behaviors that I need to change?”
If the answer to either question is no, look at the situation from another perspective. Change your self-talk. Select another word to describe your feeling that is more appropriate.
If the answer is affirmative, then take the redeeming course you need to rid yourself of the emotion. Apologize or take whatever action required to compensate for your guilt, then move on.
Guilt is your past keeping you from moving forward in the future
Given all of the negative byproduct the emotion of guilt can have on both you and those around you, I recommend you apply this emotion wisely.
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