Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tuesday Voice: Guilt

Both positive and negative

By Vic Midyett

In all things, including feelings and emotions, there is a negative and a positive. Consider guilt.
    At great risk to my longevity, I say that in American and Australian societies, with both of which I am familiar, the female gender uses guilt to such an extent from a very young age, it begs the question whether it’s genetic. Not that men don’t also use guilt, especially if their first answer to most requests is a stupidly blurted “no.” Bosses and leaders – political or otherwise – and religious organizations are masters at using guilt in manipulating people to achieve their objectives.

    Guilt is used in advertising. To give just one example: “Pay your burial costs now so you don’t burden your family when you die. Think how hard it will already be on them.” I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with taking that advice (for the right reasons). I’m simply using it as an example of guilt’s being used in advertising.
    How about soliciting for money to support a cause? The cause of a church. To save tigers or Orang-outans, to deliver clean water or food or clothing, to provide doctors, medicines. Solicitors show you fly-covered, starving children and baby Orang-outans with pitifully sad expressions. One we see here in Australia is an obviously doctored tear falling down a tiger’s face. But these approaches work, and many people, if they are able, pounce on the phone with their pledges. Again, don’t get me wrong – there isn’t a thing wrong with this giving, but most of us do not recognise when we have been manipulated to act out of a sense of guilt. We are conditioned to feel guilty, and we are used to our guilt’s being appealed to.
    How about guilt among siblings? I bet we could think of thousands of incidents of siblings using guilt on one another. It always seems to be motivated by the initiator’s desire to obtain a particular result.
    In parenting, an enormous amount of guilt is used on children. “Do you want to make mommy (or daddy) cry?” “Why can’t you be like your brother/sister?” “How do you think it makes me feel when you disobey me?” “Do you like making me angry?” (By the way, no one makes us feel. We do that all by ourselves. I could write a separate article just on that. ) And one of my favorites, “This is going to hurt me more then it’s going to hurt you.” Guilt is a very powerful emotional tool of manipulation.

And it’s not just others who play guilt on us. We play it on ourselves. Another example from parenting: The mother loses emotional control and lashes out with a harsh spanking of her child. After calming down, she feels overwhelmed with guilt and tells the child about it, asking for forgiveness. The child then becomes the parent, consoling the mother and saying they understand and all is well.
    Balderdash! That is sick and messed up.

But there’s a positive side to guilt. The guilty-feeling mother in the example above always has an opportunity to change her behavior by looking at the reason or reasons why she feels that way. If she is honest and can identify the reasons, she will more than likely not react the same way to her child again. But if she chooses to stay with the fiction that her child is so wonderful for removing her guilt by forgiving her, then her reaction will happen again.
    The positive side of guilt usually has a short but very useful shelf life, in giving us an opportunity to consider a positive outcome. The prominent engine that runs our societies is guilt. My wish is that we decide our actions after good thought as to “why,” for a positive reason, and out of love and abundance, not as a reaction derived from guilt.
    The negativity of guilt will last as long as we let it. It can, in time, make us ill. It can, at the very least, hinder our relationships from being as true and fulfilling as they could be, because guilt can make “truth” fuzzier and harder to recognize. It is our choice.
    We must not be afraid to be truthful and honest with ourselves and recognise when guilt offers us an opportunity to grow. Responding positively to such opportunities will help us enjoy more fulfilling human relationships in all their aspects.

Copyright © 2015 by Vic Midyett


  1. Vic, I thank you publicly not only for today's lesson but also, and more important for me personally, for my private "counseling session" with you that gave rise to the article. I am grateful.

  2. Oh my... thank you Morris so much for your kind words. I appreciate and respect you and all the others who offer thought provoking subjects for discussion. Bless you.

  3. A great article (as usual from you!) and one that resonates with me given I was brought up a Catholic (Roman variety) and the priests and nuns (who taught me) were past masters at laying the guilt on everyone. Who knows what the emotional cost of this early exposure to their manipulations has been for those exposed to it!

    1. I agree. Who knows, but you know it's there. Thanks very much for your comment.