Monday, November 26, 2012

How To Eliminate Negative Emotions: Guilt

I don't believe in guilt, I believe in living on impulse as long as you never intentionally hurt another person, and don't judge people in your life. I think you should live completely free. 
Angelina Jolie

No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now. 
Alan Watts

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
St John, the disciple of Jesus

What is the definition of guilt?

  • Remorse or self-reproach caused by feeling that one is responsible for a wrong or offence (The Free Dictionary)

What causes guilt?

Guilt is a feeling that one gets when one feels remorse that one has done something wrong.

First of all, it is important to recognise the source of guilt. For someone to feel guilty, they have to have a set of beliefs where one believes somethings are right to do while believing other things are wrong to do.

For example,

One may believe it is wrong to write a personal name in red. (Names in red signify death and bad luck in some East Asian cultures.)

The feeling of guilt arises when the person believing the above statement write someone's name in red.

For someone who believes it is ok to write a personal name in red, he/she wouldn't have a guilty feeling whenever he/she writes anyone's name in red.

Therefore, it's important to recognise the reason/belief underneath the feeling of guilt. Whenever you feel guilty, try and uncover beliefs underneath those feelings of guilt.

  • If you feel guilty, whenever you eat too much,
  • The underlying belief might be "it is wrong to eat too much."

  • If you feel guilty, whenever you eat meat,
  • The underlying belief might be "it is wrong to eat an animal"

Different cultures have different beliefs. For some cultures, it is wrong to eat beef while for another culture, it is wrong to have pork. Therefore, these beliefs are subjective, and can be culturally dependent.

Types of guilt

Additionally, you can generate guilt by doing something wrong to yourself, and/or others.

For example,

  1. If you feel guilty when you consume too much food, it may only
      affect you emotionally, and not others.

  2. However, if you hurt someone, you may feel guilty as well as
      negatively affecting the hurt person physically and emotionally.

There are two practical solutions to remove guilt from your emotinal life.

  I. Change your beliefs
  II. Forgive yourself and/or ask for forgiveness from others whom 
       you have wronged against

However, the solution I can be a double-edged sword. For example, if you no longer feel any guilt eating too much, you may end up gaining considerable weight and suffer the consequences of ill-health. Whereas, no longer believing that the consumption of pork is wrong and start eating pork may result in no negative consequences at all, well, at least nutritionally so to speak.

It requires discernment. Your beliefs pave the path of your emotional life and your future. Depending on what kind of beliefs you have, you may change the course of your emotinal life and your future. (I may write more articles about "beliefs and their impact on our lives" in the future.)

The solution II is essential to remove the feeling of guilt from your emotional life. If you feel you have done something wrong to someone, ask for their forgiveness. This needs courage. Regardless of whether they choose to forgive you or not, it is important that you take that first step of courage to ask for their forgiveness, humbling yourself before them.

If they chose to forgive you, receive their forgiveness, and forgive yourself as well.

If they chose not to forgive you, you are left with two options. You can carry that feeling of guilt in your emotional life until they forgive you (if ever), or you can let go of that guilt and get on with your life (and do not make the same fault again!).

The former nibbles away your emotional resilience, while the latter restores your emotional health. The former pulls your soul down to a dark abyss, while the latter pulls you out of that dark abyss into a brilliant light of day.


If you are to prevent that guilt from taking root in your heart again, it is imperative that you do not make the same fault again. It is also relevant to note that you may have had beliefs that do not have any negative consequences to you or others both physically and mentally (e.g. a belief that it's wrong to sing and dance in front of a crowd. (Given that hopefully, one's singing and dancing are not distressing to the crowd!))

Some of us may have made some very grievous faults in the past and hurt others physically and/or emotionally that we deeply regret. Being forgiven doesn't mean you no longer feel any guilt making the same fault. It means you recognise your fault truly, and resolve to not make the same fault again, through discernment and wisdom, hopefully ever! (But if you do make the same fault again, it is important at that point to carefully think over what caused me/you to make that fault again, and seek solutions to that problem and dissolve it with the acid of discernment and wisdom so that the same problem never get a foothold in my/your life.)

Last but not least, have you forgiven others who have hurt you? Are they forgiven?

It is important that you have forgiven others yourself before you ask for their forgiveness, otherwise you're a hypocrite!

Forgiveness needs courage as well. It means cancelling out the debt incurred by others towards you physically and/or emotionally. It means letting of grudge, hatred, and vengeful feelings against others from your emotional life.

Let me tell you an important truth, God chose to forgive me/you because he is love. Receiving that gift of forgiveness, we receive the power and courage to forgive others as well!

He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven
Thomas Fuller

Forgiveness is the final form of love. 
Reinhold Niebuhr

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
St Paul, the disciple of Jesus

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