This is the second of a seven-part series of articles on dealing with guilt. Please read the previous article first. Written by a psychologist.
As has been said many times, guilt can be remedied through intellectual rigor or by changing cognitions of the dynamics; making conscious the understanding that the source of the guilty feelings was illogical or irrelevant. To do this, one has to conquer the ambivalence inherent in guilt. Remember, ambivalence is thinking two different ways and these two ways are in conflict, either at the same level (conscious) or at different levels (one conscious, the other not so conscious).
“Guilt once harbored in the conscious breats, intimidates the brave, degrades the great.”—Samuel Johnson
To conquer guilt, the guilty person has to take a stand, assertively employing the third standard to undermine the tyranny of the guilty ploy. This is done by penetrating ambivalence, thus reversing the tendency to turn conflicts and ambivalence inwards. We have to understand that the queasy feeling, that anxiety that something is just not right, is really a smokescreen, a cover for an insidious dynamic that usually is just below awareness. We are in conflict and anxious because we have yet to figure out what is happening to us. The trick is to externalize this process, to describe it out loud and to identify the components, the assumptions underlying the ploy and then to choose to do something else. That something else is now OUR standard, and is usually what WE want, not what our guilt-inducing brethren wants. This means we have to be aware of the ambivalence and all its parts, and then, speak up.
Assertiveness is the process of putting our inner experiences into words, and then asking for what we want. It is the process of making conscious, the unconscious conflicts, hence ambivalence, indecision and other more superficial avoidances we go through in order to avoid experiencing negative feelings. Unfortunately for the non-assertive, this is a difficult though necessary process, to discover our feelings and then say something about them, using actual words. Here are the top eight reasons NOT to be assertive, taken from another ebook. (For a complete explanation of the following and analysis of the fallacies underlying each assumption, read The Five Steps of Assertiveness by this author.)
1) I’m afraid people will get mad at me.
2) Bad things will happen to others.
3) People won’t like me.
4) If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
5) It’s no big deal.
6) It’s stupid. I don’t want to be assertive. I get what I want
7) People should know what I think or what I want.
8) Deeper psychological stuff. (Self esteem, fears of individuating, fears of differentiating, discomfort with feelings, personality disorders, irrational associations to past assertive people, confusion of assertiveness with other states such as aggression or passive-aggression.)