The first word starting with G that comes to my mind is Gangsta. The second one is Guilt.
But guilt is also one of my oldest visitors, as I have always been an introverted perfectionist. It was always easier to take the blame myself than to look for the person that’s actually guilty. And it took me years of inner conflict to see that, more often than not, guilt is an atavism, a toxic, unnecessary emotion.
Let me be clear: unnecessary, not useless. Guilt is, in fact, a very important emotion, as it stands for our inner moral compass. We often feel guilty when we say or when we do something wrong. Something that hurts or even harms the others. Something breaking our moral principles, and probably the society’s ones as well.
This only means that guilt is an emotion with huge destructive potential, as it is so intense, and people tend to feel guilty for so many reasons. That’s how I define guilt trips: unnecessary feelings of guilt. It takes us by surprise when we decide to cut off someone or to say No, it takes over whether it is or not the case to do so.
Obviously, all feelings are valid, and no one is ever allowed to tell you what to feel or not. But guilt is a legitimate feeling in very few cases. If your words or actions are not putting anyone in danger, if you don’t harm them or become a threat to their well-being or existence, your guilt doesn’t have a reason to exist.
Actually, I have the feeling that the thing we often label as guilt is, in fact, shame. A feeling that guilt is very often coming with as a pair. Try to put I feel ashamed for instead of I feel guilty when you tell how you feel to someone else, or even to yourself, and observe how it feels. If it rings true, if it is, indeed, guilt, and not shame… Just try and pay attention to yourself, even take notes of the process in your diary, if it helps you. If anyone would ask me, I’d say we feel, 9 out of 10 times, shame. But as shame is associated with being dirty, guilt becomes a more popular substitute.
However, there is another possibility, even if darker. To feel guilt as a result of your past experiences. If you grew up in a household where you used to be the guilty one for whatever happened or to be accused because there was the easiest way for the accuser to deal with their frustration or rage, there are chances that you’ve internalized the It’s all my fault mindset, successfully applying it today. In other words, toxic environments often create grown-ups that believe that they’re to blame for whatever goes wrong in their lives. Just like in their past, when they were blamed either way.
And this is how guilt becomes a toxic, irrational feeling, instead of a legitimate one, the moral compass that helps to separate good from harmful. By being used by the powerful figures of the grown-ups as a way of dealing with their negative emotions while avoiding taking full responsibility for their actions or words.
The best thing is, however, that one can work and break-up with the toxic mechanisms learned along with life. We can set ourselves free of whatever harms us mentally and spiritually. But this only happens while working together. When we tell our friends that they’ve crossed our boundaries again. Or when we tell them how their words or actions make us feel.
It also counts as healing our old wounds when we ask ourselves Is this what am I really feeling? And if not, then what is it that I am feeling? and observing ourselves. Looking at our patterns: the type of people we feel attracted to, the kind of contexts that we find ourselves jumping into, the kind of feelings that we allow to express themselves freely.
Because what we tend to label as guilt, is rarely actually guilt, and mostly a mixture of rage, shame, and remorse. Three very different feelings, with different triggers, but which tend to pass anonymously, being labeled as guilt.
Managing guilt trips is, as any other remarkable change, a matter of work. A matter of understanding what’s triggering the feeling, of the life experiences that root it, and of questioning one’s mechanisms. It is about asking yourself How am I acting when I feel guilty? and How can I act different and healthier, instead? It is also about questioning one’s close people, as they can see some angles which are unavailable to you.
And, as dealing with any emotion, is about understanding it, about being patient with yourself, and asking for help. For the support, a specialist could provide, and especially asking for your loved one’s support and patience. Unlearning emotional patterns is a bit harder than building them, as you’re discovering new ways of being yourself. Your real, uncontaminated from other people’s unhealed traumas, self.