Define Guilt: What is Guilt?
Definition of Guilt:
noun: responsibility for a crime or for doing something bad or wrong.
: a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong.
According to the full definition provided by Merriam-Webster.com, n.d. Web, 10 July, 2014, <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guilt>
- : the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating a law and involving a penalty.
- : a) the state of one who has committed an offense, especially consciously : b) feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy: self-reproach.
Definition of the Guilt Trip:
verb: instilling feeling of guilt in someone, creating a reaction of guilt, possible manipulation of someone’s feelings for an action or lack of action, belief or lack of a belief, or some other personal characteristic. Reference from the 1970’s, “Guilt-tripping someone into doing something, or to not do something.”
To define guilt trip, it is when one person tries to make another feel guilty for a real or [usually] imagined misbehavior. Usage/example: “My mother sure knows how to throw a guilt trip.” (send me on a guilt trip). In French: “faire sentir coupable gn… ie ma me’re sait me faire sentir coupable.”
Definition of Guilt Complex:
noun: a feeling of guilt which someone has that is considered exaggerated, unreasonable, unnecessary or imagined. Common references – working mom guilt, absent dad guilt, survivors guilt.
“She clings to her child and is too permissive on her days off, due to her working mom’s guilt feelings.”
The current opinion of modern society teaches us that women can have it all. Are women truly “living the life”? What kind of happiness comes from meeting pressure on all sides, trying to do everything right, yet afraid to admit feelings of inadequacy? Most mothers are constantly worried about each decision they make on behalf of their children. Is this too much? What if it’s not enough? Can there be a better way that I am missing? Constantly asking such questions are tell-tale signs of guilt. Living with guilt of this type is oppressive, a heaviness that can certainly lead to depression.
In a segments of quotes from Karen Kleiman’s article of February 26, 2011, “This isn’t What I Expected”, she said, “Mothers are making themselves sick with expectations of perfection.”
Striving to be perfect in all things will lead to one possible result, feeling guilty. No one can be perfect, we are all flawed. We may think that great-grandmothers have lived too long to remember what it was like, but the greatest guilt reliever I ever heard, was from my great-grandmother when she smiled into my eyes and said, ” Just love them the best you can.” I was filled with a rush of relief and confidence all at once, because I knew following her advice was something I could do. In fact, it was something I was already doing. This was my a-ha moment, my first step toward relieving the oppression of guilt. Sickness doesn’t help to make better mom’s – we all need to cure the guilt before it’s too late.
Mothers are not the only guilt ridden family members on the planet. Fathers are tasked with having to balance job expectations, the expectations of nurturing a happy marriage and being a provider that is involved with helping his children grow up to be responsible young adults. Bosses expect their employees to work as if there was nothing more important in the world than their jobs. Wives have the expectation that they are more important to their husbands than any one or any thing. Then come the children, born into the world so innocent and needed their fathers protection, comfort and care. One comedian referred to his baby girl as a “guilt machine”. He felt at one point that everything he did was for his baby daughter, but it was never enough.
Where does the guilt end? Lose a job – guilt. Stay at home mom, lack of finances – guilt. Can’t afford the best childcare – guilt. Too busy to cook – guilt. Forgot an appointment – guilt. Talk about equal opportunity, there’s enough of this stuff to go around for everyone.
People who worry and feel guilty all the time are setting a behavioral example before their children. What happens when children feels they are letting their parents down? Not good enough grades, being disciplined at school, breaking something in the house accidentally. Guilt is added to stress, and behaviors begin to become dysfunctional. Kids really do not need their parent’s help to feel guilty. Most normal children feel guilt at a very young age. When they got angry at a parent for being disciplined, they may lay awake at night thinking about the incident and fixate on everything good their parents do for them, then feel guilty for the bad feelings they had that day. That is the conscience developing and a little bit of natural guilt is actually healthy developmentally.
Kids who are constantly unhappy, self-blaming and self-doubting may be taking the world on their shoulders unnecessarily. This may develop into a guilt complex or false guilt. One of the best solutions for helping kids with obsessing with guilt feelings is the common every day heart to heart talk. One parent, taking a moment to do something with their child to spend some one-on-one time. This opens opportunities for a child to ask questions that begin conversations and allows a parent to diffuse something a child may be magnifying and worrying about.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, this is true. If the parent or guardian is too busy or preoccupied to catch when a child is dealing with guilt, a relative, family friend or member of their community may see this. Mentioning it to the parent may be helpful, if not, spending some time with the child might be an option if appropriate. Helping a child work through things early on can avoid more serious behavior issues later on.
Psychological studies have shown that some children are more prone to feelings of guilt than others. Children who are more fearful are less apt to intentionally break rules, and when things happen, feel more guilt. Children of parents who behave more power-assertive are less likely to feel guilt. Fearfulness is often linked to guilt-prone behaviors.
How Does Guilt and Shame Work Together?
Small Amounts of Both Guilt and Shame Are Healthy
Many professionals believe that children are born without any concept of guilt or shame. Unless they are taught these feelings, they would not develop them. In order to maintain healthy social living, small doses of guilt and shame are very necessary.
Shame is the restraint that humans show over their natural impulses which would often lead to trouble if not kept in check. For an example, although their is nothing shameful about our human bodies, parents teach their children to keep their genitals private. This is a protection for children or their innocence would be preyed upon by anyone who wanted to see them. The effort in training a child without making them too feel fearful is worthwhile because they need a healthy balance of caution and trust.
It is the guilt a child feels when told not to say things like ugly, smelly or fat, that stops them from continuing this behavior, even when the words might be true, because they want to avoid causing someone emotional pain.
Shame helps us control unacceptable impulses and when we sometimes fail to keep those impulses in check, our guilt feelings are there to bring us to the place of admitting our guilt and apologizing for our mistakes.
People get “stuck” in their guilt when they refuse to admit they are guilty or made a mistake, blame someone else and refuse to apologize or undo the hurt. The struggle to remain “right” drains emotion and creates stress that becomes unresolved. If too much time passes and it appears too late to make amends, the guilt v shame cycle is in play. Until some kind of resolution is worked through, the guilt continues to cloud all related issues. All unresolved issues just sit there, anger stays in the back of the mind and lives there.
That is why it is unwise to try to fix other peoples issues. Everyone needs to be responsible for their own mistakes and work out their apologies to others for themselves so they will live their lives guilt free. Avoid making excuses for other’s bad behaviors or mistakes, especially your children’s. Let them talk to you about their feelings and work out for themselves the right solutions, let them make their own admission of guilt and re-build relationships. This experience will help them in later life.
Even adult children have places in their memories that still hurt. They probably don’t like to speak of them or even think about the times adults hurt them emotionally or even physically. It is never too late for a parent to apologize for a mistake, in fact children who are apologized to even after twenty years, will often open up in forgiveness and re-establish better relationships. Parents who are able to forgive themselves once they’ve apologized often begin to release their guilt and move on to better relationships as well.
Parents who make excuses for their children’s wrong behaviors may think they are being loyal or protecting their children. In fact, they are teaching children to avoid the pain of consequences by blaming others for what they chose to do. This is the beginning of that enslaving cycle of guilt. Well-meaning parents risk sentencing their children to a lifetime of slavery to emotions of obsessive guilt and denial.
The occurrence of this specific kind of guilt is derived from life-threatening situations where peers of some kind were harmed or die and the survivor cannot resolve this fact. Why was the survivor rescued or why did he or she live through it when others did not? Often reaching for higher answers, sometimes getting stuck in comparisons with the others involved who have endured a simialr event with different outcomes.
The survivor feels unworthy and questions why the outcome, and why did they survive when others did not. Guilt in this instance may be a coping mechanism to begin dealing with loss, but varies in intensity. Logic does not serve to relieve or impact survivor guilt or grief. Working hard to make their lives more valuable does not relieve their feelings of unworthiness. Sometimes however, honoring those who have died in some meaningful way can help survivors cope and begin overcoming guilt feelings. Often survivor guilt is considered to be a form of false guilt because they actually did nothing to impact who survived or who did not.
The Opposite of Guilt or No Remorse
Studies are finding that a percentage of children never internalize the concept of remorse or guilt or shame. They are able to do bad things, eventually very bad things and feel no remorse or empathy or guilt. Because they are emotionally or internally motivated to use other people to get or do what they want, they are able to precisely mimmick emotions like love or commitment or guilt, but they actually never experience emotion the way most humans do.
Psychological testing of these children and adults have shown that females tend to be more attention seeking and promiscuous in manipulation unsuspecting people, while males are overly charming, fake similar emotions as their targets, manipulate for personal gain purposes.
These non-remorseful character types are usually diagnosed as having a Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcississtic Personality Disorder or an Anti-social personality Disorder. The most dangerous sort of non-remorseful character disorder is the Psychopathic Personality Disorder which is not only incapable of feeling remorse or guilt but is also incapable of feeling fear. Most scientific studies reveal that these disorders are not only environmentally related but these disorders have a genetic predisposition as well.