The Downside of Guilt
From the talk given by Dr. Frank A. (Sarge) Gerbode on September 25, 2021
In my view, guilt, or self-punishment, is a terrible strategy (I don’t mean that you should feel guilty for using this strategy, though!). I don’t expect everyone to agree with me about this, but bear with me. If we decide to do something, presumably it is to get something that we want, whether for ourselves or for others. If we succeed, we will have the pleasure of being successful and of getting the thing we want. If we don’t follow through, we won’t get the thing that we want, and we will have to endure the pain or inconvenience of having to do without it. It seems to me that ought to be sufficient incentive or disincentive for us without piling on top of it some self-punishment.
Moreover, guilt has other negative consequences. Notoriously, to avoid the pain of guilt, we often distort our thinking to try to justify the acts of omission or commission we feel guilty about. These justifications can them serve as a motivation to commit other harmful acts, thus leading to a continuing cycle of guilt and misdeeds.
These justifications can also affect our relationships with others or with self, if part of the justification consists of denigrating or blaming the other person or oneself to “prove” that the harmful act was deserved. Also, we may project our feelings of guilt on others and expect them to think worse of us than they actually do. This can, in turn, cause things to deteriorate, because we are then fearful of having the conversation with them about our broken promise that could lead to a possible resolution. (Addressing these issues is the subject matter of the Reconciliation Section of the Ability Enhancement viewing curriculum, in which we become reconciled with ourselves and with others.)
Also, it can never really be a good thing to inflict damage on oneself, in the form of self-invalidation and painful feelings, which we often do to a more extreme degree than we would ever do to others. The negative Golden Rule states, “Don’t do unto others what you would not have others do unto you,” but I think we should also turn this around: “Don’t do unto yourself what you would not do unto others.”
If we make a mistake or fail to carry through, it is far better to explore how that happened and try to find a rational way of correcting it so it doesn’t keep happening than to seek revenge on oneself for doing it. It is my belief that we are all basically good people who are doing the best we can, with the cards we are dealt, to cope with our circumstances and to commune with others. Viewing ourselves as bad is a lie, and inflicting damage on ourselves is counter-productive in so many different ways. If we think we are bad, we will try to make ourselves powerless so that we don’t hurt people. That can hardly make us more effective human beings.
- Guilt is unnecessary
- Guilt is intentionally damaging to us
- Guilt is painful
- Justifications to prevent guilt motivate further bad actions
- Justifications create a negative attitude toward self and others
- Guilt diminishes self-esteem and self-confidence
- Projections of guilt make us fear and expect others’ judgements
- Guilt over misdeeds makes us sorry that others may have found them out
- Guilt diminishes our personal power
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