What is guilt? According to Wikipedia “Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation.”
Some of the reasons why we feel guilt are related to the way we were raised, our education, cultural background and the level of influence we let people to have in our lives. They could be our parents, teachers, friends, neighbors, work colleagues, bosses, the media or those we might perceive as hostile or enemies.
Since we are little the indoctrination process begins with notions like guilt, shame, morality, responsibilities and religion with the so-called purpose of better integrate in society. Now, it is obvious that you need to respect some rules if you want to have friends, have a social life and succeed in a social environment. The problem resides in the fact that many of these rules are counterproductive and useless. Guilt is one of them. Our sense of guilt evolves over time in correlation with our mentality. In this way, we may even feel guilty for things said/not said, done/not done in the past, things which didn’t seem a problem at the time.
All these feelings of guilt are not necessary. They not only obstruct us evolve, but they also limit our potential. Guilt appears as the result of a perceived or real mistake that we’ve done or are going to do. We will make mistakes our whole lives. We need to learn from our mistakes so we can make better decisions in the future, but the guilt associated with these mistakes is not necessary or relevant.
Guilt is a negative emotional feeling that in the best case scenario makes us feel miserable for a various period of time or/and for sporadic periods of time when we remember or are remembered of our mistakes or perceived mistakes and in the worst case scenario may influence our behavior into avoiding making mistakes or trying to limit taking risks or involving ourselves too much in some projects. By feeling miserable or by trying to limit our involvement regarding risks and mistakes we are hindering our potential and are losing opportunities we might have seen/taken had we maintained a positive attitude and not felt any guilt. Assuming risks is important as a way of learning and evolving because the more decisions you make the more you increase your chances of making good decisions in the future.
Guilt just as shame and morality is a form of self-conditioning where the subject who lets himself/herself bound by it can be blackmailed into doing/not doing things that he/she would have done or avoided doing in usual circumstances. The beneficiary in this case varies from a total stranger in some cases (especially if the subject is in a group environment) to a form of authority which the subject follows out of respect, habit, belief or fear (Ex: Boss, Church, Legal designated authorities etc.). Guilt induction has been a successful tool of manipulation for a long time and as a result it was included in most if not all ideologies in existence.
Guilt is closely tied with the notion of responsibility. Many of us were thought since we were kids that making a mistake or an error must be corrected and responsibilities must be taken for it. Not taking responsibilities for the mistake or taking too few or too late might make one feel guilty.
In some cultures (mostly Asian ones) detaching oneself from guilt is far more difficult as a result of the pressure the society puts on the individual in the form of what is expected of the individual to do as he/she grows up and their rigid views and consequences regarding failure.
Avoiding guilt is seen by many as a form of avoiding the so-called responsibilities which they associate with the damage real or perceived resulted from a mistake regardless of it being real or fabricated in order to influence your way of conduct. While detaching oneself from guilt is a good thing it may seem convenient to detach from the damage resulted from a mistake as well. This usually happens by not admitting you made a mistake telling yourself and others that you have done nothing wrong, by blaming someone else for it or believing that there was no way of avoiding the mistake and in some cases that it seemed the wrong thing to do but it was for the better.
To dissociate guilt from mistakes is not an easy task after we’ve conditioned ourselves for many years to feel guilt when mistakes are involved. However, the choice regarding what matters to you is yours to make. Things, feelings, people and situations matter to you only if you choose to. As a result, you can choose how and what you want to change about yourself. The decision is yours.