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Egocentric Guilt

Many of us perceive ourself as being at the center of the world. This attitude is called egocentrism.

As a consequence of this naive, self-centered perspective, we mistakenly conclude that we are somehow responsible for everything that happens in the world. We feel accountable for all the bad things that happen to our loved ones.  According to this mindset, the underlying motivation in life is to prevent bad things from happening. This becomes our definition of control. 

Some of us are more vulnerable to exaggerating the importance of control than others. The secret predisposition to exaggerate the importance of control does not become a problem until something bad happens. For some of us, the word “bad” covers everything from dropping a dish to the death of a parent.

When something negative occurs in our life, such as a divorce, our egocentric guilt surfaces.  Since we are responsible for everything that happens in the world, we are responsible for the breakup, we are guilty of failing to prevent it. We feel we tried to be a good spouse, but they moved out anyway. Our heart is broken. We have taken this loss personally, as if it were a reflection on our worth as a person. We feel guilty for being inadequate.

We may seek to relieve the pain of our guilt of failing to succeed in the relationship by working feverishly to bring our partner back again. We may be afraid that our world will come to an end if we do not reconcile and that will be our fault too.  

This pain is not only due loss of love from our partner, who has not been in a very loving mood of late. We are now experiencing the agony of rejection and abandonment compounded by the guilt of failing to prevent it. 

We may or may not be consciously aware of our guilt.  We may not know the words to describe the way we are feeling. We cannot discuss our pain with anyone for fear that these other people will judge us unfavorably. We may fear we will be punished for this irresponsibility, and we feel internal pressure to prevent that from happening, too!  We suppress our painful feelings by keeping them below the level of their conscious awareness where they cannot be identified or dealt with.

Since guilty people don’t deserve good things, all they have to “look forward” to is bad things that must be prevented.  When we try to prevent disasters, we are operating out of the part of us that is still six years old.  For these unenlightened people, the question never becomes, “How can I get there from here?”  Or “What is the antidote to lashing out like a child?”  Or “What can I do instead?”  

These questions can be answered if we take the time and effort. We can begin by reassuring ourselves that a feelings are not managed by internalizing or finding fault. It is not a matter of right or wrong, good or bad. We didn’t do anything “wrong,” and that such things happen to people in an imperfect world.  It’s no-one’s fault.  It’s not a matter of blame or guilt.  It is a matter of human imperfection.  

To be human is to be imperfect, to be imperfect means we make mistakes and to make mistakes. Our imperfections are not crimes. We are not a guilty criminal worthy of punishment. We can replace our egocentric, fictitious guilt by accepting that we are not perfect, which only confirms our humanity.

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 liabilities 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. 

Egocentric Guilt

Aaron Karmin


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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2018). Egocentric Guilt. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/2018/05/egocentric-guilt/

 

Last updated: 22 May 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 May 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.