Emotional Education Series Part III(b): Guilt

by Jake Wiskerchen

Guilt [gilt] noun – a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined

Guilt, the second half of this installment, is the result of shame. Guilt tells us to make a repair for the wrong we just committed.

Historically, human beings were not meant to live independently because we cannot survive alone, despite what Bear Grylls tells us with his camera crew. We were meant to live in tribes, which is why shame and guilt exist. If I live 10,000 years ago and I violate the order of my tribe, I do not want to get kicked out because I will die without the resources of the others in my tribe, so guilt tells me to make amends for my mistake. I want to get right with the tribe so that I can survive. But what if we cannot repair the mistake? What if the mistake was not even ours? Or what if we did fail to meet expectations but the person we wronged does not accept the apology?

Enter “irrational guilt,” which is the notion that no matter what you do, you cannot ever make right that which you are alleged to have done. So many people live out of this perpetual guilt and constant shaming that they live in misery through guilt that likely either long ago should have been reconciled through deeds and performance, or was never theirs to begin with anyway.

If you live in seemingly endless shame and/or guilt, my invitation to you this week is to examine that from a rational perspective and ask yourself, “Where does this originate?” If the answer seems unreasonable, perhaps then you can choose to let it go and move on.

Remember: to fail to meet someone’s expectations, they need to have told you what they expect in the first place. If you never know what is expected of you, your shame and/or guilt is likely irrational and, therefore, can be discarded.