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The Logic Of Guilt

Some of us feel terribly out of control when others are unable to “explain” events to our satisfaction. 

When we are unable to come up with an acceptable solution to a problem, we are often left focusing on who is at fault.  It is like having an open wound.  It is a source of pain and hurt.

To close the wound, we use our self serving logical deductions to reason out what happened and why. As if these problems would disappear if we found out who is at fault.

When something bad happens to us, we feel compelled to come up with a logical accounting of the facts. We learn math and science, cause and effect, rational thinking in school. The problem is that focusing only on logic assumes that emotional problems can be solved rationally. When we adhere to this false assumption, we make the mistake of choosing to give evidence to justify our feelings, pleading our case in an imaginary court of law. We make the mistake of defending our innocence to avoid being convicted as guilty and deserving punishment.

Lets say we get criticized and blamed for coming into work late. We could respond by arguing our punctuality or gathering evidence like our time card to prove our innocence. This is absurd, we are not in a court of law. Yet, when we feel attacked, it’s easy to become insulted and defensive.

As observers we look to rationally explain events. It would make no sense at all for life to punish us without some reason or logical justification: It wouldn’t be fair!  To reconcile this unacceptable sense of injustice, someone must be held accountable and be punished. 

Cara’s mother was a punisher.  Cara learned to be afraid of admitting her mistakes because she would be committing a punishable offense.  She was living in anxiety.   

This is one of her recollections:  Cara – age 6:  “I remember throwing up one morning.  My mother kept me from school.  She had to stay home with me.  I remember asking her, “Mommy, are you angry at me for getting sick?’  She was surprised that I could think she was angry.  I was surprised that she was surprised.”

Cara knew that getting sick was a bad thing.  It would be even worse if her mother had to stay home from her job. Cara felt it was her fault for failing to prevent these bad things from happening, as if it were a weakness in her character to get sick.  She was sure her mother would be angry at her and punish her as she deserved.  She was shocked and relieved to find out otherwise, but she was not cured of her predisposition to feel guilty later on. This one exception to the general rule of being faulted for everything, did not ease her worry.

Every once in a while, her mother would let go of the reins and let Cara get away with something.  It was an enlightened attitude kicking in:  That everything isn’t the end of the world and somethings cannot to be prevented.  Some things are just a pain in the neck.  We can choose to let them go.   

We are not required to assume the fault and guilt of others. Mistakes are not crimes and we are not guilty. We may be unhealthy in some ways, but we are not bad.  We are not wrong.  Some people are  mistaken, uncoordinated, and poorly informed.  If these conditions are not crimes, what are they?  They are human imperfections. To be human is to be imperfect, to be imperfect means we make mistakes and to make mistakes means we have regrets. 

Regret is the wish that things were other than they are. But they aren’t. This thing happened, and it’s regrettable. We can choose to replace our fictitious guilt with the regret that we aren’t perfect, which only confirms our humanity.

We can remind ourself that imperfect judgment, means making a mistake, which is not the end of the world. We have made many good decisions and have made mistakes before. We are more than the sum of our success and mistakes. 

Doing badly never makes us a bad person — only imperfect. We have a right to be wrong. By having tolerance for our flaws and imperfections, we can come to accept that we are unconditionally lovable in spite of them. Our regrets and mistakes do not define us or make us less lovable people.

When we do let a mistake go, we call it an island in the sun.  It’s a good sign of progress, watching these islands get bigger and bigger. As we practice letting go, these enlightening attitudes begin to crowd out the pain. Then at a certain point, we became a different person. We passed the point of no return and can’t go back to our old ways

Photo by ulisse albiati

The Logic Of Guilt

Aaron Karmin


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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2018). The Logic Of Guilt. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 12, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/2018/05/the-logic-of-guilt/

 

Last updated: 25 May 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 May 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.