Occasionally Married Man and I have long text discussions about life, kids, relationships, sex, and whatever else comes along, including guilt. Recently he shared the following:
Freedom is being able to choose what makes you feel good and bad as opposed to being pushed or pulled. Now you select a code of ethics that suits you… it’s based on love, respect, and your thoughts as opposed to a preconceived notion or externally injected belief.
Imagine a world with no jealousy or envy? That’s paradise.
Having been raised in a family in which guilt was part of the glue that held us together, it’s taken a lot of work for me to get past it. Guilt served as the driving force in so many relationships, and even helped to keep me in a miserable marriage for too many years. There is perhaps a healthy level of guilt which keeps us human, and I respect that. What I choose to ignore is that level of guilt which we, especially in the US, consider to be “normal” and dictates how we respond to one another.
At some point guilt becomes self destructive, not socially constructive. To feel bad for causing another being pain is to feel empathy. Guilt is not necessary in that case. It becomes negative reinforcement, whereas empathy becomes positive reinforcement. Typically, animals (including humans) respond well to positive reinforcement.
How did I move past my own guilt and get on with finding a better life? Talked to my friend Angela Lord at Feel Good On Purpose. I find that since my session with her last autumn, I’ve not had the same fear/guilt pangs that I had previously accepted as “normal”. I can choose to empathize with people, or I can choose to remove myself from a situation, whichever suits the situation best. There are times when guilt really serves no other purpose than to drag one’s self-esteem down, which is counter-productive in the grand scheme of things. My mind now reasons things through by asking “is that going to be a good thing for me to do, or will it harm anyone?” before I commit to an action. Guilt serves the same purpose, but at the end instead of the beginning. Guilt says “that was stupid. Look what you did” without offering much in the way of constructive help. It’s more deconstructive, really.