I was cured of “false” guilt by watching how various TV judges conducted their court shows. In one type of case that kept reoccurring: the defendant would want the plaintiff to do something for them (usually loan them money). During the testimony, the defendant would complain that the plaintiff forced them to take the money. Meanwhile, the plaintiff would explain that if they said “no”, they felt ashamed. The judge would tell the plaintiff that they were not a bank, and not to lend people money. To the defendant, the judge would tell them that they did not need to accept the money.
I learnt that I was well within my rights to refuse unreasonable requests. I am not responsible for anyone else’s actions or feelings, only my own. The guilt that is often placed on others is usually “false” guilt. For example, some people use guilt to avoid the consequences of their actions. It is easier for them to manipulate others than to maintain good relations with them.
I see two types of guilt – “true” and “false”. Most of what we feel is “false” guilt. Since many of us were trained to be sensitive to other people’s moods and feelings, we feel often guilt and unease when someone is upset with us. To avoid feeling this shame, we become overly dependent on fulfilling the needs of others. We dwell in fear of the potential rejection from our friends and others. Manuel Smith explains, “when people try to manipulate you, they are sending the message that they – not you – are the arbitrators of your behavior.”
When we stand in our integrity and truth, we stop feeling “false” guilt. Living in our truth, we face our fears and establish our boundaries. When we are honest and true to ourselves, we can see what is unkind and cruel. Since we know right from wrong, we do not need to punish ourselves but instead correct our actions.
When we have integrity, we have “pietas”. We can feel “true” guilt, and understand when we need to repair our relations between ourselves and others. With our new compass of kindness and firmness, we will know when our actions are either good or cruel. As long as we do not rationalize our actions, we can correct our behavior. Guilt in this instance can be a prompter to maintaining the “right relations” with others and ourselves.
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