Guilt is Too Often Exaggerated which causes Stress

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Guilt is often exaggerated which creates suffering. Our ability to twist & turn a normal situation into a dramatic episode leading to self torture is amazing. I listen to people make wild, inventive leaps about what they should have done. This level of self torture really needs to be interrupted with a compassionate reality check.

It is ordinary to make mistakes.

It is ordinary to feel anger toward people we love.

It is ordinary to lust & not act on it.

It is ordinary to be able to leave a relationship that squelches your spirit.

It is ordinary to disagree in a relationship.

It is ordinary to discuss when things are lopsided or unfair.

It is ordinary to be wrong or do something embarrassing.

Guilt makes what is ordinary into a pretend extraordinary.

Premature, falsely enlarged guilt erases a tremendous amount of authenticity. Too many people swallow their real feelings in order to “be nice, not hurt others feelings” which means they remain unknown. The price of silence creates inauthentic relationships that are stale over time.

Guilt is often anger turned inwards. Those who are afraid of anger as an emotional tool see it as exploding bombs and so they deflect. We are drowning in a culture that avoids & deflects as evidenced by the cowardly texting of disagreement, which prevents a more authentic dialogue addressing complicatedness.

In order to reduce inner stress from guilt, consider how to express yourself more honestly & quietly. Begin with small steps with the people you care for the most, they are the ones to be your most “real” self with. Think of this exercise as taking more ownership of who you are & how to get more of what you want in a relationship.

What people really want is to be truly seen & known.

When guilt is reasonable & not a source of stress it is about obligation. Though many people turn obligation into an exaggerated burden that is completely unreasonable. It is ordinary to draw a line in the sand and say enough when you are stretched to the limit.

It’s more than a little kooky to never say “enough” because guilt makes it feel impossible to do.

You would be less stressed if you are able to free yourself from exaggerated guilt.


Feel Overwhelmed by Emotions? You are Not Alone!

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Feeling overwhelmed by feelings with no clue how to manage them is at the core of addiction problems. A central problem of anxiety is being to easily swamped by fears. In depression it is feeling devastated by despair & hopelessness.

Many people are overpowered by their anger as evidenced by the news reports of Alec Baldwin. The intrusiveness of obsessiveness can wreck many people’s lives as evidenced by women who compare themselves unfavorably to everyone else. Perfectionists suffer from a persistent feeling that they are never enough and torture themselves needlessly.

There are soooo many ways to be confused & overwhelmed by feelings, how do you cope or control them?

*The first step is to accept it is totally possible to think & feel at the same time. This would mean deciding not to let feelings take up all the space.
*The second step is to become suspicious of feelings; they are not an inner compass but often, exaggerated & very manipulative.
*The third step is to make a choice to think through your feelings. This means taking time out of your jam-packed life to develop a new habit.

An example: You feel like you are not good enough for your partner. You’ve been dating for 3 years & you want commitment, they seem happy the way it is. This feeling leads you to despair because your Mom left the family home & you behind when you were 12. So when you are with your partner, you start putting up walls & seem easily irritated because they are not choosing you. When you are alone you feel hopeless & in despair.

So thinking all this through it seems clear you need to take some action & not do a big emotional dump that only leads to a dead-end. “OK 1. I’m feeling sensitive due to my past & it’s not their job to make that up to me. 2. 3 years is a good amount of time. Do I want to ask them to decide or free me up to find someone else, not as a threat but as a reasonable conclusion to spending all this time together. 3. Is commitment really important to me, after all?”

THINK THROUGH YOUR FEELINGS is how you control your emotions instead of letting them run rough shod all over you.

Learn about feelings and think of them as tools available to you in the emotional tool box. Even anger when you are in control can be constructive. Consider the opposite of each feeling as a way to get a grip. The opposite of anger is being vulnerable. Anger is self protective which is the opposite of vulnerability.

Another example: the opposite of FEAR is ????? Fear & excitement always travel together. So push & shove your mind to potential excitement in whatever you are afraid of because they are both present, whether or not it feels that way.

Guilt is one emotion that, similar to fear, people allow to run amuck. I am amazed at how people can feel guilty about trying to set reasonable boundaries with an intrusive parent or saying no instead of their usual knee-jerk yes. Here is one way to think more clearly about guilt: When guilt is reasonable it is accurate about an obligation. When someone wants too much from you then it is really unreasonable and the truth is you feel resentful but being nice is too important so you swallow your guilt and then it eats at you from within.

There is a lot of information about emotions on the emotion page of my website.

Exaggerated Guilt

People who suffer from exaggerated guilt often erase decades of their life by feeling bad. They act as guilty as if they had murdered someone and belong in prison. They build a prison for themselves of twisted ideas.Shame, Dealing with Guilt, Overcoming Guilt, Effects of Guilt, Too much Guilt

I’ve watched many lovely women from Pittsburgh, whose hearts are strong and true, who have invested years of caring for an elderly parent only to later decide that they didn’t do enough. It’s very hard for people to make any distinctions about their own guilt.

Guilt is very complicated. It can be crucial to understand that a parent who manipulates will use their pain in a very selfish way. The facts may be that the physical therapy or rehabilitation facility was clear that the parent refuses their help because they want to be taken care of. This may not be reasonable based on the facts.

There are several distinctions that need to be made. One is whether, what the parent wants is reasonable or unreasonable. Ask someone else who has a good overview of the situation for a reality check. If you suffer from exaggerated guilt you are unlikely to be able to make this distinction based on the facts alone. Therapy is often a setting that can help you reflect on the totality of the situation and help you come to better decisions that factor in self-care.

Another distinction to make, is whether someone is manipulating out of a selfish pain. “I’m not coming to your wedding because I don’t want my circumstances to change, I’m not living with him too” is an example of a selfish, manipulating pain. It may be hard to picture an aging parent as being selfishly manipulative but it happens every day.

Separating someone’s legitimate pain from manipulating, selfish pain is a distinction guilt often refuses to recognize.

Often, people with chronic pain or disabilities can be very self-absorbed and manipulative. They are exploding with their own exaggerated entitlement because living with pain is no picnic. It’s important to balance the picture by calling them on it instead of getting lost in a sea of guilt and simply acquiescing.

Exaggerated guilt contaminates everything it touches and should be thought of as the oil on a seagull that keeps it from flying.

Mistakes & Forgiveness

I was lucky enough to work with women in prison and jail. I learned a lot about how hard it can be to maneuver a place for yourself in the world after making disastrous mistakes. Mistakes about a man’s character, mistakes in judgement, mistakes in making impulsive decisions, mistakes born from unfinished business or mistakes made in passion or anger. Until I met these women I had only known mistakes that had been important to  my own education.

Eve Ensler, the playwright most known for  ¨The Vagina Monologues” has taught writing as a volunteer, for over a decade at the Bedford Hills Maximum Correctional Facility. There is a powerful documentary about her writing group titled What I want My Words to Do to You. Ensler finds a group of actresses (Glen Close & Rosie Perez) to come to the prison and read the prisoner’s words. In the beginning of the documentary she gives the introduction to the play, describes the women as imprisoned for their dreadful, catastrophic mistakes and goes on to say that ” . . . we have frozen you for your mistakes and hated you for your mistakes.” I never before heard prison described like that but it rings true.

The documentary reveals the process of coming to terms with being responsible for murder; their guilt, sorrow, despair and for the most part, the journey to taking full responsibility. It is not a therapy group. It is a group of women honestly sharing their pain and coming to terms with living in prison for twenty or thirty years. They are also honest about their own denial even when in the midst of a courtroom.

I believe this documentary can be helpful to lessen your own experience with shame. Whatever mistakes you have made are not likely to include murder. Too many people are caught in a trap they create by not forgiving themselves. Coming to terms with our own mistakes is crucial to building character. You watch this unfold for others whose missteps far exceed your own on the screen.

It’s too easy to drown in shame. Shame should pinch you and remind you to do better next time, not to act as an anchor that keeps you stuck in the depths of despair.

Risk More Shamelessness

Junot Diaz,the author, spoke at Drue Heinz lectures tonight and it was very rewarding. He talked about his immigrant experience at the age of six from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey. A member of the audience asked him if he had advice for her as a teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language). He shared how important it is for her students to be completely shameless, so that they practice and risk mispronunciation and not be afraid of being picked on. He went on to say if you are sensitive and easily embarrassed it is so much harder to learn a new language. The same can be said for growth of any kind. Shame is a huge obstacle to progress.

Shame is one of the largest deterrents to change of all kinds. The opposite of shame is to risk uncertainty and be willing to not know. When someone asked Junot Diaz what defined him as a person he chose uncertainty. There was something so genuine about his value of uncertainty, that I imagine it comes from his life experience.  Shame is about hiding and staying in what’s familiar even if its very bad because you feel so bad inside and want no one to know. People hide their illiteracy, their mistakes, their vulnerability and regrets, because they fear anyone else rejecting them. When the simple truth is they are the ones rejecting their own humanity.

This is why it is so important that parents or teachers not use shame to push kids into “better” behaviors. Young adults will tell me of experiences when they were young, that were the very beginning of their willingness to give up on themselves. Shame is far more powerful than people realize, it’s impact can last for decades.

I don’t think we talk often enough about being shameless. I’ve been joking with people for months that “I shamelessly flog my blog.” I’m taking risks because having people read it is important. defines shameless as audacious, and insensible to disgrace. It’s often a good thing to be more impervious to the judgements of others. I can easily imagine someone criticizing Van Gogh for putting his paint on the canvas too thickly. If you want to be good at english and it’s a new language, or an author who writes then you have to care less about what others say and practice, practice, practice shamelessly.

Making Distinctions About Guilt; Instead of Suffering from It

Guilt is a complicated business because there are two sides to it. Of course, there is a good aspect to guilt.iStock_000005994502XSmall Guilt is supposed to be a pinch to remind us to do the right thing even if we don’t feel like it. Guilt is like the penalty fee on an unpaid bill, it’s there for a reason. The problem is that too many basically good people suffer from excessive guilt.

Excessive guilt means you are an expert at torturing yourself. For example, take someone who spends a decade caring for her aging mother and has given up too many of her own choices in life. She meets somebody special and feels guilty, convincing herself she’s wrong to want her own happiness. She can easily spend the next decade torturing herself that she didn’t do enough (esp. if her mother adds to her guilt by refusing to welcome the new love interest). In this case, guilt is a boulder around your neck that can carry you down to the depths of despair. If she has a Catholic or Jewish background there may be no climbing out of the pit. If she also has anxiety or obsessiveness to add to the mix it’s another boulder tied to her ankles. Constant doubt and questioning your own integrity  goes along with anxiety.

When guilt is reasonable, it is a pinch to remind you that obligation matters. When guilt is a giant unreasonable pile that won’t release its grip around your heart, that is something else all together…Swallowed resentments. What’s really happening is that you are pretending your own wants don’t matter. I used “she” in the above example because women are far more likely to swallow their wants. Begin to think of too much guilt as an opportunity to explore your own resentments. Staying with the above example of the woman and her mother, it’s easy to imagine: I’m resentful I never get my own vacation. I’m resentful not to have fun and laugh with someone else. I’m resentful my mother is rude and unwelcoming. I’m resentful my siblings don’t help out or offer me a break. I’m resentful my mom wants me all to herself and expects too much. It’s easy to see the wants under each of these resentments. Simply change the resentment into the want and be more honest with yourself.

So many people who suffer from guilt are people who ignore themselves. They believe it’s just too hard to juggle mom’s needs and their own. They’ve decided it’s too selfish and then carry the burden of their silent wants. Everybody gets hungry for a life of their own. It’s nothing to apologize for. It’s about facing the complicated situation of taking care of both people instead of signing up to be the martyr. Martyrs are too good at pretending their own needs don’t matter which is self deception.

Ask an expert who abuses themselves with guilt what the opposite of guilt is, and they are likely to respond freedom. The reality is they need to set themselves free. That’s why there are only 10 commandments (and it doesn’t say honor your father and mother while erasing yourself). Explore the resentments/wants underneath the guilt and accept them for what they are: perfectly reasonable and worth saying out loud. Relationships are always more difficult when they are about both people. Excessive guilt means you are too busy building a prison for yourself. Do the work to set yourself free, nobody is going to do it for you. guilt1