December 1, 2011
Distinguish Between Being Wrong And Being OK
How To Unburden Yourself from Unnecessary Guilt
When you can make amends for doing something wrong instead of condemning yourself, and also excuse yourself for being imperfect, and allow yourself to do what’s right for you, life will feel much better overall.
The Scolding Factor
As discussed elsewhere, some of us have been raised in family, cultural, or religious contexts in which we have been taught to question our motives, feel guilty, unworthy, or defective, and to believe that we are “bad” and need to be reprimanded or punished. This is not about delinquents, hardened criminals, narcissists, scam artists, or political opportunists. We are talking about those with hyper-sensitive consciences who are all too ready to question or disapprove of who they are and what they do and even think. These are basically good folks who feel burdened by their imperfections and even their good sense.
People do a range of bad things: yelling, driving drunk, stealing, cheating, insulting, abusing, or gambling the mortgage. Responsible people face it, own it, feel appropriate guilt or regret, and make amends. Being smart and ethical about it is dealing with it and moving on by becoming a better person.
Normal Things, But Not Good
Lots of basically good people do or think things that are wrong or hurtful. Here’s a range: raising your voice, being impatient, being critical of others, gossiping or telling secrets, having mean-spirited or insensitive thoughts, worrying your spouse, not exercising, or overeating.
These are “normal” mistakes that are made, meaning that lots of people are misguided and fall prey to these behaviors, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok. Your mission as a responsible, caring, and ethical person is to act more respectfully and with more control.
Good Things, Not Bad
Sadly, there’s a tried-and-true method that many good highly ethical people use that cause themselves both stress headaches and anguish: Labeling good or normal thoughts and actions as bad or abnormal. Some examples include:
- Being Assertive. Telling people what you want or like, respectfully.
- Needing Time Alone. Getting a break from being responsible.
- Feeling Unappreciated. Humans need to feel appreciated, especially by inner circle significant others.
- Saying No. Declining offers of time, money, and favors that bring unnecessary disruption to you, or that are “enabling” behaviors.
- Having Temptations. If saints have been tempted to do immoral or selfish things, we are in good company.
- Wanting to Escape. Wanting to leave a job or home temporarily or for good sometimes accompanies high stress.
Who thinks these are “bad”? Some people who are highly responsible or over responsible, or raised under strict family or religious codes. Because of genetics and cultural backdrop, women tend to think this way more than men.
Honor Yourself and Get Better
One might wonder, don’t we all have enough to deal with without manufacturing superfluous trouble and conflict? Instead, use your energy to become the person you want to be, by making better decisions, especially for yourself. Honor yourself in spite of your shortcomings and because of your human goodness and potential. It is not “pride” or “conceit” to humbly hold yourself in high regard. Meanwhile, you learn to recharge, renegotiate, rebalance your duties, and find more enjoyment. In essence, this forges a better life for you and your loved ones.
Take these steps to tighten up your self-image and improve your life with better choices:
1st Write up a short yet dense philosophy of self-acceptance in spite of your mistakes and imperfections.
2nd List some things you typically feel guilty or bad about, and reassess each using the above criteria. Put your ideas on paper.
3rd Start with two or three of those things or choices you want to improve, and write a specific plan that schedules time for you to improve them with learning and practice.