Avoiding Accountability: Managing Guilt
Every six-year-old knows that when we are wrong, we deserve to be punished.
More specifically, when we don’t trust ourselves to make good decisions, we fill our mind with doubt as punishment. So by denying ourselves happiness, we are teaching ourselves a lesson. This is done with the hope that we will avoid the same mistake next time. Yet, the cycle repeats itself because people who feel stupid are guilty of being wrong and need to be punished, which makes them feel stupid and so on.
It seems so illogical. There is no reason for it. Not a rational reason, anyway. Some “reasons” are not intellectual, they are emotional and are derived from the subjective attitudes that we have about ourselves. For instance, one “reason” we inflict blame upon ourselves is that we have learned pain is inevitable. So we beat others to the punch by blaming ourselves first. It hurts less that way. It is the lesser misery that we prefer, to the even worse pain of letting others punish us.
We may have learned as kids that our parents expected us to be “perfect.” Our parents’ overcritical attitudes leads children to believe that our human faults and imperfections are a “disappointment” to our parents, and that it was our “fault” that we didn’t live up to their high standards and expectations.
To relieve our painful feelings of worthlessness, as children may have tried to deal with the issue of “fault” in our own immature, inappropriate way:
1. We may have tried to relieve the pain of our faults through overcompensatory striving for perfection.
2. We may try to “deny” that we have faults, pretending to be perfect and above failure, and that all attempts to accuse us of having faults are “lies” and “gossip” on the part of jealous haters.
3. We may defensively deny our own imperfections by going on the offensive and blaming others for our difficulties. Our motto is “It’s not my fault.” Out defensive tactics include the absurd position that, even when we are caught red-handed, it is someone else’s fault that it is our fault! We might say, “You made me do it!” We cannot see how we contributed to our own predicament. We are so filled to the brim with negative feelings that we cannot tolerate one more drop of guilt, fault or blame.
4. On the other hand, in obedience to our family’s opinion of us, we may define ourselves in terms of fault, guilt, blame and worthlessness. To maintain this negative identity, which is preferable to the even worse fate of having no identity at all. We may seek out guilt and blame, and take more responsibility than the reality of the situation demands.
As adults, we may carry these childish perspectives into adulthood, and as a result, we react inappropriately to our own imperfections, those of others and the ones in the world. In turn, when something happens to confirm these childhood convictions, we end up lashing out in anger.
There is no way to prevent imperfect human beings from being imperfect. We can take reasonable precautions, but beyond a certain point, our good intention to ‘prevent, plan and control’ becomes counter-productive. You, like all humans, have limitations and make mistakes. Acknowledging both our assets and struggles is a key to open the door of self-acceptance. By a acknowledging our regrets and mistakes, we can come to accept that we are unconditionally worthwhile and lovable in spite of them. Our regrets and mistakes do not make us less lovable people.
Karmin, A. (2017). Avoiding Accountability: Managing Guilt. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/2017/07/avoiding-accountability-managing-guilt/