There are two types of guilt that an individual can experience; one can be classed as healthy and the other as unhealthy. And like all feelings, there is usually a reason when guilt appears.
Now, the reason for guilt appearing could be functional and beneficial to one’s life or it could be dysfunctional and detrimental to one’s life.
On the dictionary.com website guilt is described as: 1. having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; justly subject to a certain accusation or penalty; culpable: The jury found her guilty of murder. 2. Characterized by, connected with, or involving guilt: guilty intent. 3. Having or showing a sense of guilt, whether real or imagined: a guilty conscience.
So then, healthy guilt could be described as being a consequence that occurs when one commits an immoral act or behaves in a way that leads to the subjugation of another human being.
Here one feels healthy guilt through empathising and imagining what it would be like if that same thing were to happen to them.
Where as healthy guilt is only felt during moments when one has behaved in a way that has gone against their moral compass; unhealthy guilt is often felt more often. This kind of guilt can last for prolonged periods of time and can be triggered at any moment.
It can be a feeling that one experiences on a regular basis. And all that is required for this feeling to arise is a certain look, words that are spoken or the behaviour of another person. One can also experience this unhealthy guilt as a result of their internal processes; with thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotions being triggered.
As one feels this guilt so often it then becomes difficult to achieve any kind of internal wellbeing or balance. The guilt has become who one is and is then not questioned or challenged. Perhaps this is how it has always been; so why would one question this unhealthy guilt.
So let’s look at a few situations where one could feel this unhealthy guilt.
• One can feel as though they have done something wrong when their reality does not show this to be the case.
• When another person looks upset or down, one can feel that it is their fault.
• There could be a situation where one is given something, but instead of feeling worthy, one feels unworthy.
• One might have achieved a certain goal or overcome a certain challenge and instead of feeling good about it; they end up feeling uncomfortable and unworthy.
Just A label
If we look at guilt from a different perspective and at a deeper level, we can see that something else is going on and that the word unhealthy guilt is just a label that is used for an elaborate inner process.
Ones mental and emotional wellbeing is being severely affected by combination of feelings, thoughts, sensations, emotions and behaviours. These could also be classed as: low self worth, depression, shame, self blame, regret and many others things can be experienced as a consequence.
When one experiences this unhealthy guilt it is either coming from an external trigger or one is triggering it through their own perceptions. This shows that in each case it is coming from within. As for it to be triggered through an external stimulus it has to already exist inside.
And if one is feeling this unhealthy guilt by their own perceptions, it shows that it is again coming from inside.
The Ego Mind
This is where the ego mind comes into the equation. And this is because the ego mind functions from a place of what is familiar and what is familiar is associated as what is safe.
So if we now look at this unhealthy guilt we can see that it exists because on some level there is an association of it being safe and if it is safe is must also be familiar. And what is classed as familiar to the ego mind has usually been experienced many times during ones childhood.
It is here that one will have their first experiences of unhealthy guilt. Even in families that are reasonably functional there is likely to be moments of unhealthy guilt. And in dysfunctional and unaware family’s it will inevitably occur more often.
In the very beginning this will be acted out in many different ways.
• As a child, one may have had their needs and wants denied; with the parent’s wants and needs being more important. So when the child becomes an adult, feelings of unhealthy guilt arise whenever one takes care of their needs or wants.
• Perhaps as a child one was constantly blamed for things that were not their fault and ended up feeling responsible for other people’s problems after this. And then when they see another person experiencing pain or suffering, they feel unhealthy guilt.
• Another example is if the child was told that the caregivers are going without, so that the child can have what it needs. This can make one feel that other people will go without if they get or have what they want; which will lead to feelings of unhealthy guilt.
However, at such a young age one is unlikely to be aware enough to question and reject this unhealthy guilt. As a child, all one can do is to accept and identify with it.
The reason this guilt is being passed onto the children is because the caregivers have repressed it to such a degree within themselves, that they have lost touch of these feelings. It then becomes a lot easier to cause another person to feel unhealthy guilt without feeling healthy guilt oneself.
Although ones caregivers may have been unaware of their own internal processes, one doesn’t have to be the same way. By becoming aware of one’s past and embracing what happened; seeing it as a being impersonal and purely a reflection of what ones caregivers had not acknowledged, one can gradual let go.
Because the ego mind will hold onto these early memories and this is due to its whole identity being based on these experiences. And its identity comes from the past; so it will use every defence mechanism that it can to avoid looking at what happened, but it is in facing the past that one can become free to be who they truly are.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.