Can Feeling Guilty Be Good?

"A person without guilt is a person without a mother."

Is guilt something I was taught? Can feeling guilty be good?

The Passenger Pigeon became extinct in the early 1900s due to over-hunting. Should we feel guilty about that?

The word guilt means having committed an offense, crime, violation, wrong OR having a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined. To me it seems unrealistic that guilt can be considered a good thing.

Guilt can have different implications. For example, guilt can imply a sense of shame, a state of having done wrong, a feeling of remorse and regret, a state of being a criminal, a sense of responsibility for an offense, and/or self-reproach for doing wrong. But, are any of these a reason for saying that feeling guilty is a good thing?

Where does the feeling of guilt come from? I cannot remember a time in which I didn’t have guilt feelings. As a small child, I felt guilty when I disappointed my parents. As a student in elementary, middle and high school, I felt guilty when I didn’t complete all assignments. As a friend, I felt guilty when not helping out my friends in need. As a father, I felt guilty when I didn’t show as much love as desired by my children. As a husband, I felt guilty when I had an argument with my wife. As a …., – the list goes on! :-(

Referring back to my first question, “Is guilt something I was taught?” — I don’t think so. On the other hand, I don’t know where it comes from. Why is it that, as a small child, I had guilt feelings?

I didn't "sleep-in" and I got all of my chores done. Today, I have no guilt feelings! :-)

I once heard the statement: “A person without guilt is a person without a mother.” The statement seems to imply that mothers are somehow responsible for guilt feelings. I don’t necessarily believe my mother is the cause of the guilt I have felt, but I will readily admit that I felt guilty when she was displeased with me. MMMmmmm…! Perhaps, I was “taught” to feel guilt as a child.

If we are taught guilt feelings as a child, then we need to be careful that the feelings don’t grow into adult feelings. Guilt feelings lead into feelings of unworthiness. The feeling of unworthiness can become feelings that become “who we are” and a part of our self-image. I think if my mother was trying to guide me by imparting guilt feelings, then she was misguided. Guilt is a feeling that needs to be brought-out and disposed of.

If guilt can be learned, then surely, it can be unlearned. We should all refuse and unlearn unearned guilt. As an example of trying to unlearn guilt, consider personal guilt feelings about “sleeping-in.” I have had these feelings since I was a young boy living on a farm. You see, as a farm boy, I had chores in which the lives of animals depended upon someone taking care of them. My parents, I guess, somehow instilled in me a feeling of guilt anytime I didn’t wake-up AND get-up early in the morning to do my chores. By the way, I don’t remember ever having neglected the animals in my care, but I still somehow acquired long-lasting guilt feelings.

Sleeping-In ≠ Guilt Feelings

This feeling of guilt, when sleeping-in, remains to this day. Oh, it’s not a strong as it used to be, but I think that has a lot to do with me trying to unlearn it. The problem is that the guilt feelings creep-up through my subconscious and linger there long enough for me to consciously feel unworthy. Ouch!

I believe that guilt can be somewhat useful for having a healthy conscience, but “un-earned” guilt, as described in my example, needs to be stopped. It’s like trying to pedal my bicycle while holding down the brakes – a lot of work that gets me nowhere!

So what should we do with guilt feelings? Well, if they’re unearned, then make them unlearned. If they’re earned then learn what you need to do in order to not be able to earn more AND move on. How? Here’s help from “Tips From People Like You.” The point is, guilt is usually an unnecessary emotion and therefore, you should do all that you can to make it not your emotion.

Can feeling guilty be good? MMMmmmmmm….. :-)

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