Our goal is to have a strong, positive self-concept and to be able to maintain it regardless our our expertise or lack or it in any particular area. This needs to happen regardless of the approval or disapproval of any other person.
The way you think about your behavior in any given situation (the way you judge it) and the context in which you see it is vitally important. Guilt obviously subverts positive self-esteem.
By whose standards do you judge yourself, yours or someone else’s? Do you seek to understand why you acted as you did? Do you consider circumstances, context, and the options that were available to you or that you believed were open to you at the time?
We feel guilt when:
- Contemplating something we have done or failed to do, we experience a diminished sense of self worth
- We feel driven to rationalize or justify our behavior
- We feel defensive or combative when someone mentions the behavior
- We find it painfully difficult to remember or examine the behavior
Ask yourself, by whose standards as I judging, my own of someone else’s. What do I really believe about the issue?
Much or the so-called guilt we encounter has to do with the disapproval or condemnation of significant others. It is not always advisable to take (our own or anyone else’s) declarations of guilt at face value. Often the person does not actually regard the action as wrong. The answer is to heed the authentic voice or your inner self.
Respect your own judgment.
The deeper problem is dependency and fear of self-assertiveness; more specifically the fear of challenging the values of significant others. Reframe your thought to: I do not think this is wrong but I am afraid of the disapproval of others. In this manner, we have moved out of the area of guilt and self-reproach; we have given the problem a more accurate and useful definition. The challenge becomes, am I willing to stand by and act on my own perceptions and convictions? Such willingness is one of the meanings of “honoring the self?
Sometimes protestations of guilt are a smokescreen for denied and disowned feelings of resentment. Thus, I have failed to live up to someone else’s expectations or standards. I am afraid to admit that I am intimidated by those expectations and standards. I am afraid to acknowledge that I am angry I am over what is expected of me. Instead, I tell myself that I feel guilty over failing to do what is right and I do not have to fear that I will communicate my resentment and place my relationship with others in jeopardy.
To deal with this, be honest with yourself. Own your anger. Admit your resentment at standards and expectations that are not truly yours. The guilt will disappear and you can then work on your own autonomy. If I am free to admit my anger, I feel cleaner and freer.
Undealt with resentment and fear of rejection are the issues that have to be resolved, not guilt. If you are willing to make the effort, if you generate the energy to sustain the quest for independence, the benefit for self-confidence and self-respect will be virtually immediate.
Suppose the standards are really yours and in some cases you have betrayed them. You have undermined your sense of integrity. As we develop our own values and standards, the maintenance of our self-evaluation. Integrity means the integration of convictions, standards beliefs and behaviors. Integrity assumes greater importance when our self-esteem is good.
If you are stuck, do not tell yourself you can’t do it? The question is whether you choose to do it. When we behave in ways that conflict with our judgment of what is appropriate, we tend to lose face in our own eyes. We tend to respect ourselves less. If we merely castigate ourselves, vilify ourselves and think no more about it, we deteriorate our self-esteem and increase the probability that we will have less integrity in the future. A bad self-esteem in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead of collapsing into self damnation, we can learn to ask: What were the circumstances? Why did my actions or choices seem desirable or necessary? What was I trying to accomplish? In what way was I trying to take better care of myself?
Suppose you are someone who has chosen to stay too long in a bad situation, even one that is dangerous to yourself or others. Perhaps you see life a dangerous or your resources as limited. You wish you had more courage or confidence, Perhaps you were trying to survive in a world that did not offer many options. Allow yourself to feel remorse and regret, but not self damnation.
Our actions are always related to our efforts to survive, to protect the self, to maintain equilibrium, or to avoid fear or pain. Even if the path we choose is mistaken, even if we objectively we are engaged in self destruction, at some level we are trying to take care of ourselves.
In seeking to understand the roots of undesirable behavior, neither understanding nor compassion entails denial of responsibility. Self-forgiveness may require more than understanding.
- Acknowledge that we have done something wrong.
- Admit your wrong, and take the consequences of your wrongdoing.
- Take a firm commitment to behave differently in the future.
- Explore the reasons for doing the wrong in the first place.
- If we remain relentlessly self-condemning, our behavior tends to worsen.
Jerry’s story is that of of leaving his wife and children 15 years ago. He decided to find his son and former wife; acknowledge his error and the pain he had caused; accept their right to any kind of anger they wished to heap on him and do anything he could to assist them now. He forgave himself and accepted their right to not forgive him if they choose too. He was now free to accept their pain with clarity and compassion. He did not have to continue the self-hate, it was useless to all of them. Guilt and compassion do not mix well. As long as we allow ourselves to think about how rotten we are, it paralyzes our ability to determine what can be done about it.
One of the worst mistakes we can make is to tell ourselves that feeling guilty represents some kind of virtue. Intransient harshness toward ourselves is nothing to boast about. It is something to hide behind and it leaves us powerless and paralyzed. Suffering is just about the easiest of human emotions. Being happy is the hardest.
Ways we harm our self-esteem:
- Generalizing our essential nature;
- “I’m a social Misfit.” What group or person to you have difficulty talking to?
- “I’m a coward” In what situations do you feel fear?
- “I’m lazy” Are you doing the things you want to do? Focusing on the negative aspects rather than the positive
- Think of three situations in your life when you do not behave like this
- Give up name calling and assaults on your self-esteem and zero in on the circumstances in which you behave in the undesirable way. Ask yourself why those circumstances seem to draw that behavior
- Identify three alternate ways that you might respond differently in those situations.
- Persevere, even in the face of initial disappointments and you will find that you have radically underestimated your power to change
- Acknowledge that you do have the power to and make your own adaptation to this formula, it has to be your own.
- Turn loose of your guilt and powerlessness. Unhappiness is familiar, not enjoyable. Misery can provide its own kind of coziness, happiness is more demanding in terms of consciousness, energy, discipline, dedication and integrity.
- It takes courage to work on liberating ourselves from guilt. It takes honesty and perseverance and living responsively and actively, but it can be done.
- When we condemn our thoughts feelings or actions, we do so to protect our self-esteem, even though the effect is directly opposite to what we intend.
- I feel guilty for being attractive
- I feel guilty for having more money or goods than others
- I feel guilty for being more intelligent than most people
- I feel guilty for making a success of my life
- I feel guilty for having more integrity or being more spiritual than others that I know, et
Two themes are present in this kind of thinking:
- Fear of self-responsibility
- Fear of isolation or aloneness