THE BLOG

Guilt Is Really Manipulation

08/04/2015 09:02 EDT | Updated 08/04/2016 05:59 EDT

Maybe you've felt them yourself; the painful, recurrent pangs of guilt? Maybe you've wanted to do something but stopped yourself, because you were held back by guilt? Maybe you've felt compelled to do something that you didn't really want to do, because guilt made you do it? If this is you, or someone you know, then read on.

Guilt seems to be an epidemic these days, and it's plaguing the lives of so many people. I often hear stories of how guilt is controlling someone's most important life choices. Strangely, guilt isn't even a natural emotion.

The truth is, guilt is a learned reaction; a negative feeling about ourselves that's associated with something we're about to do or that we've done.

We might think that guilt comes from deep inside us, but really, guilt is always about the fear of displeasing or disappointing someone; someone who has an agenda that we feel compelled to fulfill.

No one is born with guilt. It's put onto us by our parents, relatives, teachers or clergy. We learn to feel guilty when we're told by these important people that we're "bad," "selfish" or "hurtful" if we don't do what they want us to.

In fact, guilt is just manipulation. It's the way that those people we grew up with tried to control us and get us to do their bidding.

When we feel a lot of guilt, it's a sign that we've experienced a lot of this manipulation. It's not a sign that we're especially "bad," "hurtful" or "selfish."

We need to see that it's those who've made us feel guilty who are the hurtful, selfish ones. They're not thinking about what's good for us when they try to control us with guilt; it's never about what's in our best interest.

Guilt can be very crippling. It forces us to make choices that go against our real needs and feelings. We become alienated from our authentic nature, as our motivation to please others becomes more important than our desire to be true to ourselves.

Guilt leads us to do things that aren't good for us: it forces us into marriages that aren't suitable; it makes us choose careers that aren't right for us; it keeps us tied to our family of origin, other adults or institutions, long after we should have broken free of them.

There can be no freedom when we're driven by guilt; there's no possibility of living an authentic existence. When our choices are directed by guilt, we're simply the pawns of those who made us feel guilty in the first place.

We can be so successfully manipulated that we see our guilt as coming from our own conscience, when in reality, we've just been subtly (or not so subtly) coerced to act out someone else's agenda.

Fortunately, we can open our eyes and see that guilt isn't a natural emotion, or a healthy one, and that we aren't obligated to spend our lives tied to those who want to control us through guilt.

We can let go of our guilt and do what makes sense for us, allowing choices to be guided by our true needs and feelings, rather than by another person's selfish desires.

We can give up the burden of guilt and begin to live a life of freedom and authenticity; we'll create more joy for ourselves and interestingly, when we're free of guilt, we'll be able to contribute much more to others, as well.

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