Why Do I Feel Guilty?
Before we can start to understand the why behind the guilt, let’s first define it. Guilt means that we believe that something we are doing is causing pain to someone else. It’s activated by our behavior, thoughts, or feelings that we judge to be wrong or bad.
Normal parents are protective of their children. But what if your parents were overprotective? What if every time you played sports, rode your bike, or roughhoused with friends, your parent—at best—became disturbed and—at worst—frantic? “Watch out, you’ll get hurt!” “You’ll break a leg!” and so on. Would you have interpreted that as interest in your well being, or rather, believed that you were hurting your parents by your sense of adventure and fun? Children who think that their actions are causing pain for their parents will feel guilt.
Let me be clear. I’m not talking about a parent’s normal range of caution and concern. I am talking about extreme caution and worry over small risks. But if you grew up always experiencing irrational guilt about worrying an overprotective parent, you’ll also experience guilt in response to risks as an adult. You’ll feel frustrated by your excessive sense of caution, but most likely you won’t be aware of its cause, and so you’ll be unable to change.
Does Any of This Sound Familiar?
1. You feel responsible for your parents’ or siblings’ misery, and guilty about pursuing your own goals. How you tried placating them, or atoning, in order to relieve your sense of guilt will explain some of your self-defeating life patterns.
2. You quietly developed self-hatred and resentment about having to inhibit a normal behavior or goal when your parent continuously behaved badly toward you. How did you respond to the resentment you felt?
3. You rebelled as a way of protesting. You hoped that they’d get the message you were sending by your behavior and change for the better (that is, you became stubborn to protest against a parent who was too controlling in the hopes that he or she would get the message and be less controlling). Or, you rebelled to prove to yourself that you’re your own person and you can’t be manipulated. This type of defiant rebelliousness is responsible for many painful self-defeating behaviors.
4. Even though you promised yourself that when you grew up you’d never behave the way your parents did with you, you notice that you’re mimicking their worst qualities.
I want you to know why it’s so hard to free ourselves of the behaviors we hate no matter how hard we try, no matter how much willpower we exert, no matter how much advice we receive from others. To understand why it is so hard, we’ll delve into why our childhood patterns continue on into our adult lives even though they are clearly negative patterns and we no longer are living with our parents. The negative effects of our family experiences remain hidden from our conscious mind, even though this information is critical to changing what we most dislike about ourselves. We’ll pin down this elusive awareness in this book and you’ll begin to make positive changes in your negative behaviors. Finally and amazingly, many people you’ll meet will tell you that they didn’t experience major problems in their families and they aren’t aware of any guilt feelings. And they’ll tell you this despite obvious, and serious, personal problems. Why? Let’s see.
Exercise: Now Look at Yourself
Imagine that you could be reborn into your family today. Now imagine that you were born into your family with all the knowledge that you possess right now. Consider writing about the following:
• What would be different for you in your relationship with your mother?
• What would be different for you in your relationship with your father?
• What would be different for you in your relationship with your siblings?
Beginning the process of change means beginning a hunt for the causes of your problems that are lurking below the surface of any problem.