This is the fifth of a seven-part series of articles on dealing with guilt. Please read the previous four articles before reading this one. Written by a psychologist.
How do you get “in touch” with these irrational beliefs and the inner feelings or reactions they create? How do you turn ambivalence and conflict outwards? Choose a current problem that induces guilt and ask yourself some pointed questions. Here are some prompts:
• What problem is currently troubling me?
• Who is responsible for the problem?
• Whose problem is it, really?
• Is this guilt due to an intrapersonal or interpersonal problem?
• Did I do something to make this problem worse for myself?
• Was “what I did” related to one or more of the irrational beliefs above?
• What are my feelings? (Articulate them specifically, by name…)
• How much guilt do I feel?
• How much does the guilt I experience exaggerate or exacerbate my problem?
• If I felt no more guilt what would my problem look like then?
• Is my guilt insurmountable?
Then try the following; keeping in mind, assertiveness is your best friend about now…
Reframe or redefine your problem without the presence of guilt. This will prompt you to see that guilt often prevents resolution of problems. Remember, guilt perpetuates anxiety by masking the underlying resentment of being judged; thus creating ambivalence, which when turned inwards is the dynamic defense against the feeling(s) involved in the conflict(s).
Try reducing judgment to simple evaluation. In other words, redefine your problem, by clarifying the relevant, but usually out-of-awareness issues. For example, is your guilt interpersonal? If so, can you help the other person and yourself set aside guilt and resolve this problem? If it is intrapersonal, can you set aside guilt or the fear of it and resolve this problem yourself? Can others and myself experience satisfaction, comfort and resolution with a minimum of debilitating guilt? Whose problem is it, really? Is it my problem or another(s)? Am I taking on another's responsibility? Am I am trying to keep another from experiencing pain, hardship or discomfort? If the problem is really someone else's, give the problem back to them. If the problem is yours, you must confront the real or imagined guilt or fear of guilt preventing you from either handing the problem back to the person(s) whose problem it really is or from handling the problem yourself. (Here comes assertiveness again.)
For now, ask yourself what fears are blocking you from taking the steps needed to resolve this problem? Which ones are rational and which ones are not? Rational fears probably are healthy and likely will be dealt with regardless of their relation to guilt. It would be healthy if you treat irrational fears the same, making them external and breaking them down into their component parts, reducing them to transactions and evaluations rather than lumping them all together, feeling judged and skipping this kind of analysis.