GUILT…..Stepping over the line

Guilt is a powerful emotion. Sometimes it works in our best interest, other times not.

There are three levels of guilt. The first is when we step over the line. Guilt, as a result of stepping over the line, serves as a warning telling us to wake up to a wrong doing. The second is when we think we stepped over the line. Some people have a tendency to see themselves as the cause of everything that goes wrong even when they had nothing to do with the situation. And the third is when we are completely unaware we stepped over the line, which happens with those who have poor social skills or a sense of righteousness.

Guilt is learned early on. We weren’t born with the ability to feel guilt. We learn it through feedback we receive as we progress through the various developmental stages from birth to about 7 years of age….the first stage from birth to about 16 months is all about attaching to the caregiver; second stage is the stage of exploration from about 1 1/2 to about 4 years of age; the third stage, and here we will stop, is about identity. This is when a child starts playing “pretend” or “dress-up”. Play is so important at this age because it is, for the child, serious stuff. “I’m Batman” means the child is indeed Batman for the moment. If they are denied that reality or their reality is validated only in terms of what the parent thinks, the child develops a sense of shame and from there, low self-esteem opens the door to guilt or blameworthyness. Pathological guilt in a pre-school child can lead to depression, OCD, and anxiety disorders in adulthood.

How do we deal with guilt. Well, we can ruminate about it our self-torture. But that doesn’t serve any beneficial purpose. The way we can deal with feelings of have committed a wrongdoing is to first check it out with the person offended. Stay with the feeling without judging it….the feeling, not the wrongdoing. Seek forgiveness and repair any damage if possible. Accept consequences be it monetary, loss of privileges, public disfavor, etc. Finally, move forward with the awareness that poor judgment does not define you and regain your balance, equilibrium, you true identity. It is in realizing you true self that you act in accordance with your values and ethics. From there it is all good….until, once again, you step over the line.

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