It is one of those words you throw around kind of casually, right? …like you know what it means…
Let’s discuss. Shall we?
The act of committing some kind of breach of conduct or violation of law troubles you because it leaves you with a recognizable feeling. Guilt is a sense of shame you feel when you have identified with causing something bad. (By contrast, you don’t feel shame or guilt after having caused something good, right?)
Guilt echoes like a low, dense siren throughout the very flesh of your body…across your brow…in your gut…through your chest…into your arms and legs. It may be a cramp. It may be a spasm.
It is hard to differentiate whether guilt makes you want to run or hide…or just freeze. One thing is for sure: You don’t want anyone to notice you when you feel guilty.
Guilt is the yucky feeling that comes only when you believe you have done more bad than good to (or harmed more than helped) someone. You could insert different words…for example, you might believe you have:
taken more than you have given, or
caused more pain than you have pleasure, or
disturbed more than you have appeased, or
challenged more than you have supported.
Of course, there are so many variations of the theme. Whatever you believe you have made worse more than better for someone, by what you have done (or not done) haunts you as the feeling of guilt.
The Result. (Some Facts.)
Experts in psychology report most people experience between 5 – 8 hours of guilt, per week.
WHAT? Guilt takes up a whole work day?
Experts in psychology report guilt, then, distracts us and ruins our concentration; destroys our communication; reduces our productivity; makes our bodies stiff and makes us believe we have gained weight!
WHAT? Guilt makes us feel stupid and fat?
Experts say guilt makes us sick.
WHAT? Another risk factor? Don’t we have enough of those already?
What is Hidden is Heavy.
Things that make you feel guilt are things you want to keep hidden. Hence, the burden. I guess that is why we created the expression ‘to carry guilt’.
Before you hoist more guilt-stuff onto your back, and become unproductive, stupid and/or fat, find out if it is worth the trouble.
Here is How You Begin to Eradicate Guilt:
Your Face-to-Face With The Unmet Expectation.
Buried within each morsel of guilt is the foundation of an unmet expectation – by both you and the person you believe you caused a more negative than positive experience for. What was it? You only feel guilt if you believe you did not keep your part of the bargain to fulfill an expectation.
To find the expectation that was unmet, reflect on the person whose very name makes you feel guilt; ask yourself what you believe that person expected of you.
Guilt shows up as avoidance. If you are embarrassed to meet up with someone or talk about something, it is a sign of unacknowledged guilt. Ask yourself:
What did this person expect me to be or do?
…Did I know about it?
…Did we talk about it?
…Did I agree to fulfill it?
What expectation did I not fulfill for this person?
…What did I agree to?
…Is there any way I could have fulfilled it?
…Was it a realistic expectation?
…Did I want to fulfill it?
…Am I still trying to fulfill it?
…Is this person still expecting me to fulfill it?
If you have been accused of causing more problems than solutions, pain than pleasure, turmoil than calm…you might feel the stress of guilt without knowing exactly why. So, to stop that guilty feeling, you must explore where the unmet expectations are hidden. Pull them out of hiding; then you will start to feel relief.
Expectations are Exact…But Not Always Shared.
An expectation is exact…from the point-of-view of the one who is setting the expectation. Yet, isn’t it strange how expectations can be exact, but not necessarily articulated?
Yes, some expectations are clearly stated. For example, someone might have told you “I expect you to be home at 9 o’clock.” Or, “I expect you to pay your credit card in full, on time.”
When there is a detailed forecast of what someone expects of you, your role is to agree – or not. Speak up! Say “Yes, I agree!” Or, say “NO, I do not agree.” (Silence is so often taken as agreement. “Weeeee-eelll, you did not say no, did you?!!)
Yet, many expectations are not stated at all. Many expectations stay inside someone’s mind, never to be shared, but assumed to be understood. WHAT? Expectations are floating around in the vague atmosphere of understood-land – and you are supposed to figure it out?
Here is an example: Monogamy.
Monogamy is a prevailing ethic in couplehood. You – and everyone else you know – is supposed to agree to it, and know what you are agreeing on.
Your best friend may assume his wife is monogamous – and expect it. He may have a vision of what it looks like, sounds like…what her behavior is and how she interacts with others, based on his interpretation of monogamy. He may believe they have an understanding of what he expects it means.
However, your best friend’s wife – though she may adhere to her own interpretation of monogamy – may not be able to fulfill her husband’s unstated expectation. Monogamy may look different to her. There may be, in fact, a lack of agreement…a lack of understanding.
Have you ever known a couple that was torn up by different interpretations of the same expectation?
So many expectations are assumed to be understood.
Have you been in the situation where someone counted on you to fulfill an expectation, and you wondered how that person may have come to presume such a thing?
When you have the feeling someone expects something of you, yet you don’t have the guts to tell the person “Nope”, you set yourself up for double-guilt.
Oh, yeah. If you let the expectation ride along, knowing all the while that it is something you will not fulfill…yet you say nothing…. Well, you better get ready for whats-a-comin’…
Double-guilt is the guilt you experience towards the person you spoofed, but moreso the guilt you have towards yourself for not having had the ability – or guts – to speak up.
If you have not already realized this: Expectations do not simply go away or disappear because you say nothing. Your silence may be interpreted as agreement. Keeping your mouth shut is not a strategy that will work. Not now. Not ever.
The Power of NO.
If you want to get rid of guilt, you must accomplish these three tasks:
So, you have one task to identify expectations. You cannot rid yourself of guilt until you know where it came from. If you experience guilt, there are unmet expectations you must meet or delete. What are they?
You have another task to ask a simple question that goes like this “What do you expect of me?” (P.S. Don’t be surprised if whomever you are asking cannot even articulate it. Be patient. Give the person time. You may be the first person ever to ask such a sane question.) The point is, you must free yourself from guilt by knowing if you know what you think you know about the expectations that preceded it.
Now, this task is, perhaps, the hardest task of all – to be willing to say NO. (Keep reading!! Don’t give up now!!)
Once you realize how much harm unmet expectations cause, you will get more interested in setting the record straight and teasing out what the expectations really are. That leads you into the third and final task – to agree or not to agree. That is the question. At this point, you must be ready with a litany of ways to say NO. (Of course, you are also welcome to say some kind of ‘yes’, but that seems to be a bit easier for people than coming back with NOPE.)
I must say, considering how much you respect and love the people around you, it is a rare thing to want to dedicate your life to fulfilling someone else’s expectations. So don’t be shocked if you say NO an awful lot.
Start practicing now:
No, thank you.
That does not compute.
That would be a negative.
Not on your life.
Not in a million years.
That is out of the question.
We may have to agree to disagree, my dear.
Who the F*** do you think you are talking to?
It is just not possible right now.
Maybe another time.
I cannot do that.
I am not able to do that.
I don’t know how to do that.
That is impossible.
You are not the boss of me. Hence, my NO.
I don’t know or care where you got that crazy idea. In other words, I shan’t be granting your wish.
I don’t agree; therefore, I forgo your request.
NO can be your best friend. It is short. It is a sweet little two letter word that can save your sanity. And, it will, if you let it.
Coming Soon! Next: Part II. Guilt. The Accuser.