Guilt is an emotion that can play a large role in many relationships. Often it arises when we behave in a way that violates the expectations of others.
After we realize that we may have disappointed someone or hurt them, we regret our actions and seek to repair the damage. While this emotion can often be uncomfortable, a recent study argues that guilt is an evolutionary adaptation designed to improve our relationships.
Guilt is often what drives us to apologize after we have done something wrong. It also drives us to be more cooperative, rather than confrontational, because as social beings we often aim to please others.
When we fail to do this, it leads to emotional repercussions like guilt; which then motivates us to make future changes in our personal behavior so that we don’t make the same mistakes and experience guilt again.
In a related study, it was found that jail inmates who experienced more guilt and regret were also less likely to repeat criminal behavior in the future. This is just another example of how guilt can motivate us to make positive changes in the future.
Of course, because of guilt’s power to influence people’s behavior, it can also be used as a tool for social manipulation. Many people may try guilt tripping others to behave a certain way. And if the person doesn’t conform, the social manipulator will reprimand that person or ostracize them.
It’s important when dealing with guilt to keep a few things in mind.
How to learn from guilt:
- Be aware of feelings of guilt when they arise, don’t try to suppress them or ignore them.
- Try your best to identify the causes and triggers of your guilt. Ask yourself, “What is causing me to feel this way?”
- Try to determine if your guilt is “rational” or “irrational.”
- If your guilt is rational, try to find something you can do to help fix the situation – even just a genuine apology can be really important.
- If you can’t fix the situation, forgive yourself. We are all susceptible to making mistakes under certain conditions. No one is perfect – just try putting your best foot forward.
- If your guilt is irrational, try to think of the situation in a different way. There are a lot of factors that are outside of our control, yet we feel guilty about them anyway. Not everything is your fault.
- Know when someone is just trying to guilt trip you in order to manipulate your behavior or get something out of you.
- Your values will not always align with other people, so it’s unrealistic to try to please everyone in all situations. Don’t feel guilty about that.
Keep in mind, some people can be emotional abusers, and they may try to constantly make you feel guilty in order to mold you to their will. Beware of these people. As hard as it may be, you have to be willing to cut off relationships like this.
You can’t find happiness with someone whose objective requires making you feel bad about yourself. There are points in relationships where your values are sometimes more important than others. You were not born on this planet to be someone’s puppet or slave.
At the same time, sometimes it’s important to feel some temporary pain from your mistakes. Only people without any sense of empathy never feel any kind of guilt. But some guilt every now and then is actually a sign of mental health, because it shows you acknowledge other people’s feelings when you make a mistake or disappoint someone.
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