The Guilt Trap

Jyoti Shekar 

Remember the feeling of guilt after exams, during the summer holidays? We felt that there was something missing and felt guilty for not studying. Only because we were told by everyone the entire year to study, then suddenly, exams are over and people around us stop badgering us. The guilt comes automatically, even though we are doing nothing wrong.

images (36)Same way, if our mind is conditioned to do things a particular way; choosing a different path makes us feel guilty. It seems like our inner self is telling us that what we want to do is wrong. But that’s not necessarily right. We need to be able to differentiate between our inner conscience and subconscious.

Per definition: Inner conscience guides us on our sense of right and wrong. Whereas, the subconscious observes and recalls information without us actively trying, and influences our behaviour pattern. As a result, inner conscience is less influenced by people around us than the subconscious.

We all battle with certain decisions from time to time. Especially if it is something we need to do but are not conditioned to do. For example, doing anything ‘unconventional’; a more relevant example would be, stepping out of an abusive environment. Now we tend to feel guilty when we put ourselves first in this scenario, i.e. stand up for ourselves. This is because our minds are conditioned to the fact that ‘all good people are selfless’. What we do not understand is that the selflessness is a good trait only when we have to help others in need, and not to encourage others to treat us badly. And hence, there is no need to feel guilty about protecting ourselves.

Another example, though completely unrelated, would be the ever present mother’s guilt. Mothers are so worried about bringing up a perfect child with perfect experiences, that we tend to feel extremely guilty about every small lapse, or rather, perceived lapse. A lady told me how she felt guilty about working extra hours as she feels her child gets neglected. Another lady spoke about how she felt guilty every time the child got hurt. These feelings come because it is ingrained in us that a mother is supposed to obsessively look after her child throughout the day. But even if we do that, we cannot be with the child twenty four hours, we will have to equip the kids to learn practically and handle things by themselves.

Guilt is by all means a necessary feeling. Without our conscience pricking us, we cannot keep a check on our own behavior. However, a guilt based on what society thinks is the ideal way to do something or the way our minds are conditioned to think, can definitely be avoided.

So, the next time, you have guilt hovering around you, ask yourself a few questions before giving in to the guilt:

Is the situation/act hurting you?

There is really no need of guilt if your action does not hurt anyone. In fact, taking an action to save yourself from hurt is perfectly acceptable.

What is the base principle for your guilt?

If the guilt is not based on your sense of right or wrong, but is rather dictated by other people, society etc. then it is time to throw that guilt away. Everyone needs to find their own path.

Is it better living with the guilt or it is worth fighting it?

Sometimes it is not worth the guilt we feel in doing something. It is a personal call which no one else can make for you. But if what you are fighting for is worth that guilt, then by all means go for it.

Is there a greater good achieved?

If you are feeling guilty about something which is causing temporary pain to someone but is in the long run good for that person, then you are coming from the right place and chances are, it is all going to be okay. So throw that guilt away.

The society has such set views about how a woman should conduct herself that sometimes we are made to feel guilty about doing something. Many mothers still feel guilty about having a career. If they are ambitious, they are called ‘too ambitious’, whatever that means. Who amongst us have cancelled an important work trip, let go of opportunities due to time commitment, passed up promotions to remain in a less busy role, and so on. These choices can be good if you are willing, but not if you don’t want to. Being ‘guilted’ into something will cause more harm than happiness in the long run.

Inner conscience guilt will make you correct your behavior. But subconscious guilt only makes us scared and less confident of ourselves, thereby preoccupying our minds with useless regret rather than constructive ways to handle things.

Let us make the most of our lives, and live regret free.



*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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