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Guilt - Deserved and Undeserved

A Good Article on Guilt and Guilt Trips

Guilt Trips

When I Say No I Feel Guilty

EQ for Everybody Section on Guilt

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When I Say No I Feel Guilty

Here are some notes from "When I Say No I Feel Guilty" by Manuel J. Smith

He originally said You have the "right" to... but we prefer saying "a natural need to feel free and safe to". Here is a discussion of the difference between needs and rights.


1. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to judge your own behaviour, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.

2. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behaviour.

3. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to decide if you are responsible for finding solutions to other people’s problems.

4. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to change your mind.

5. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to make mistakes – and be responsible for them.

6. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to say “I don’t know”.

7. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.

8. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to be illogical in making decisions.

9. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to say “I don’t understand”.

10. You have a natural need to feel free and safe to say “I don’t care”.


Guilt - Deserved and Undeserved

When you feel guilty, you are at war with yourself. You have violated some internal standard. This is a good time to examine your standards, apologize, ask for forgiveness, make restitution, learn from the experience, and learn to forgive yourself.

Evaluate your standards - Ask yourself if the standards you are comparing your actions against are really your standards. In other words, did you consciously select them, or were they just handed down to you or forced upon you (as is the case with most of our religion-based guilt). If you do not really believe in the standard, you are punishing yourself needlessly.

Apologize - If you have done something involving another person which you feel bad about, apologize by expressing your honest feelings. Ask the injured party how she felt about what you did, then listen without defending yourself. When the injured party has fully expressed herself, you will have learned a great deal, and she will feel much better. If appropriate, offer to make restitution, by asking what you can do to make it up to her. By these actions you are showing that her feelings matter to you, and that she matters to you. Finally, ask if you have been forgiven. When you have apologized, made restitution, and been forgiven, you will feel much better because you have closure.

There is a chance that the other person will not accept your apology, particularly if she is highly insecure. She may say something to the effect of, "There is nothing you can do! I never want to talk to you again!" When someone denies you the opportunity to apologize, she is attempting to punish you. This makes her feel self-righteous and superior to you. If you feel punished as a result, you must sooner or later forgive yourself the sooner the better, for your sake. The other person is playing a game with you; if you feel punished, she wins. Learn - Sometimes there is no one to apologize to, no one to make amends to, and no way to make restitution. In such cases, truly learning from the experience will help dissipate your guilt. Truly learning means applying what you have learned in order to change your behavior. It doesn't mean just saying "Well, I guess I shouldn't have done that," and then doing it again later. Truly learning also means accepting your faults. Learn to accept the fact that just because you made a mistake, it doesn't mean you are a mistake.



A story about guilt

Someone I will call Diane is married to an alcoholic. When I met her five years agon she was separated from him and dating another man. She told me how guilty she felt for leaving her husband and dating someone else while she was legally still married. A few weeks later she broke off the relationship with the other man and moved back in with her husband. She told me her family had made her feel horrible about what she had been doing. She said they laid a huge guilt trip on her about how much she was hurting her husband. She said her mother had always taught her that when you get married you stay married for life.

After she moved back in with him she would stay at work as long as she could to avoid going home. Some nights she would stay all night in the extra room at her office. She told me she just couldn't leave her husband again because she would feel too guilty, so she just tried to avoid him. She said her husband was so hurt when she left the first time that he drank even more and lost his job. She told me she felt responsible for that too, which added to her feelings of guilt. The last time I talked to her she was still living with him and still unhappy.