I feel wracked with guilt; constantly.
I feel guilty about not seeing my friends as often as I should; and guilty if I have to leave the office on an urgent errand. I even feel guilty for taking so long to decide on what type of fridge I should buy. I feel guilty about so many things; guilt has come to feel like a core part of my life.
But guilt is the most worthless emotion we can ever feel.
It adds absolutely nothing of value to our lives or the lives of people around us. It never assuages difficult situations. If anything, it makes them worse.
Sure, your partner might enjoy watching you squirm uncomfortably when the subject of infidelity comes up due to your past indiscretions, but even that smugness is short-lived. Nobody benefits from the type of self-flagellation so many of us tend to engage in.
So why do we do it?
Why do we rob ourselves of happiness in the present by focusing on past misdeeds that we don’t feel good about?
Well, for one thing, we believe that this is normal, and sometimes even necessary, to show our true remorse and repentance. Particularly where the majority appear to agree that we have done something reprehensible, we’re made to believe that we have to demonstrate the requisite level of shame or self-castigation to be accepted back into the fold.
But don’t fall for it.
People’s inclination to make you feel guilty or uncomfortable, about anything is because they’ve discovered that’s how best to manipulate you and control your behaviour. Usually, the minute they show their disapproval of you, it makes you want to modify your actions in some way. But how happy does that make you; and just who gets to choose what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong?’
I’ve had many an interesting discussion about what’s appropriate and what’s not, particularly when it comes to relationships. Interesting because none of us can say for sure what is appropriate. Of course, we’ve all been brought up to believe that certain things are wrong, like engaging in extra marital relationships for instance, but there’s a plethora of other rules that got decided long before we showed up, that we still subscribe to unthinkingly.
One reason we do this is because we’ve convinced ourselves that without these rules, there’d be moral decay and the collapse of upright society.
Another, perhaps more compelling reason is that we crave acceptance; and so we sacrifice what we want in favour of what’s expected of us.
Yet the notions of what’s ‘normal,’ or ‘expected,’ can be troubling.
For instance, where you have two people who have stayed together for years but never married, why is our normal reaction to pressure them to tie the knot? And what if they both decide to keep their options open and see other people, who decides this behaviour is moral or immoral?
There are many other areas where we feel obligated to justify the way we conduct our lives.
For example, because we’re expected to hold down ‘steady jobs,’ anything remotely unconventional, such as setting up a home business or making a life as an artist is still viewed in some quarters with some disdain. As a result, we feel guilty about trying to pursue our passions, or trying new things.
We’re constantly apologising; and trying to convince people that we’re not truly renegades; that we fit in.
But the truth is, one size does not fit all. We don’t all fit into the same mould; and what’s sauce for the goose, is not always sauce for the gander. Life is a matter of choice.
If you want to be truly happy, never adopt somebody else’s yardstick for what is right or what is wrong as your own. Make sure your decisions are prompted by your own feelings. If something makes you happy, then do it; and if not, then simply opt out.
But this can be a struggle, and that’s where our guilt comes from. It’s because on some issues, we still value other people’s opinions about our lives, even prioritize them, above our own. So from time to time, we do things we know that we would rather not; and we accommodate people in ways that don’t feel right even to us. We fear being ostracized, or labelled as “not nice.”
On most days, it seems easier to acquiesce to doing things we don’t want to because it helps keep the peace. But even that peace is short-lived because soon, people come to expect us to do the very things we never wanted to do to begin with; and we end up resenting them even though we created that expectation; and lead them to believe they could make us behave one way over the other.
So don’t give in. Don’t relinquish control over your life. Realise that the negative emotion associated with the guilt you feel is letting you know that you’re viewing yourself in a way that doesn’t reflect the perfection of who you really are.
Your interests are always supreme, and while that may sound selfish, your individual happiness is paramount because without it, you can’t make anyone else happy.
For some people, prioritizing individual happiness is dangerous, even unwelcome, but think about why that makes you feel insecure. Whose behaviour are you trying to control?
Or if you feel guilty, where does that stem from? What are your supposed sins of commission or omission?
This week, remember that it’s not your responsibility to make other people happy. We’re all responsible for how our lives turn out; and our happiness lies firmly in our own hands.
Acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances; and that growth is a natural part of your life. Find a way to be happy about the way you live your life and the decisions that you’ve made. Make it your primary intention to feel good.
You deserve to.