If we have committed a crime, then it makes sense to feel guilty.
Many of the rest of us wallow in guilt that we have not earned and do not deserve. Guilt is the perception that we have done something morally, legally, or ethically wrong. Many of us perceive ourselves as guilty for having done or even thought of something that violates externally imposed standards.
For many of us, guilt originates in childhood.
Every very 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. 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.
Those who carry guilt may have been cast as a caretaker who was in charge of pleasing others. This is a role that was dictated by their parents and siblings, who have made them out to be responsible for all the ills in the family. As children, their parents may have said to them, “Look at what you made your sister do,” and they need to get on the “team.”
Another may have a sibling who gets all the credit, while they get all the blame. Now as an adult, when there is a disaster, such as a job loss, a divorce, or a death, they are predisposed to assume responsibility (“If only I’d done more, this wouldn’t have happened,”) and feel angry with themselves for not preventing it. In extreme cases, we say the person is a “martyr.” These people are guilty in advance. It’s only a matter of time.
Clare was the martyr of her family. Everything was her fault. Her parents and siblings solved their problems by blaming her. Clare’s family, on some level, knew that she is vulnerable to guilt and they used it against her. By guilting her, they protected themselves, but at the expense of Clare’s happiness.
Some may think of Clare as weak, but a family often selects its strongest member to carry the burdens, that the rest of them cannot bear. The designated scapegoat carries this burden into adulthood, even old age, without questioning it. As a result, those who feel guilty cannot be happy. Happiness would be inconsistent with the lifestyle that has been imposed upon them.
To some, happiness is useless. Happiness is “easy.” It does not prove that we are “tough,” that we can “take it.” But suffering can. Suffering can be used to our advantage. It gives us the “right” to be happy because we have “earned” it. Suffering “proves” that we are morally stronger than people who “can’t take it.”
What kind of people have to “prove” that they can take suffering? People who feel inferior and inadequate to cope with the demands of life. What kind of people must suffer for their “crimes?” “Guilty” people. This is how insecure people “solve” the painful problem of feeling “less than” their fellow human beings.
In this case, those who are excessively guilty feel happier than they ‘deserve’ to be. There is a conflict between their happiness and their unworthiness to enjoy the happiness. It is painful. The pain has to be relieved. There is too much happiness and not enough suffering. They have to find a way to restore the balance. So they assume more guilt then they deserve.
This is absurd. Seeing the absurdity will help to stop taking it so seriously the next time this guilt kicks in. Those who feel guilt are not worthless or unlovable. They are a worthwhile human beings in spite of their human faults and imperfections. They don’t have to feel guilty when they feel happy. They don’t have to bring themselves down in order to restore the old balance.
We all deserve the pleasure and happiness of life, without having to prove we deserve it. The issue is not guilt, fault or blame; the issue is human imperfection. It was not a crime to make a mistake and we are not guilty.