How to Deal with the Two Different Types of Guilt

Sometimes it feels as if there’s no end to the guilt hoisted upon me by others. Generally, these statements come in the form of, “You SHOULD [insert thing].” While there’s no reason the word, “should,” need be entirely removed from the English language, it’s frequently the word choice of people when they want to use guilt as leverage to direct me toward a different course of action. Guilt comes in two forms.

  1. False Guilt – In this case, you don’t agree you’re doing something wrong. It’s difficult to recognize at first. With practice you’ll soon come to realize you probably get more of this hoisted upon you than you could’ve ever guessed. Examples of this include, “You SHOULD let your child refuse to eat. He’ll get hungry and eat eventually,” and “You SHOULD stop supporting the baby’s head. He’s old enough to hold it himself if you give him a chance.”
    For a child with a feeding tube, the first isn’t true. If it was, they wouldn’t need the feeding tube. For a child with hypotonia, the second isn’t true. Children with hypotonia are slow to make progress on gross motor skills. Acknowledging the guilt is false takes a lot of its power away. Once you identify it as truly false it likely won’t bother you anymore.
  2. True Guilt – This one is a little nastier, because you agree you’ve done something to deserve feeling guilty. The best way to deal with this one is to forgive yourself. Whatever happened, you can’t go back and change the past. Your intentions were probably good and hindsight is 20/20 in these situations. Just because it’s obvious now you wish you had done things differently doesn’t mean there’s a way you could’ve possibly known that at the time.
    If you want to forgive yourself and are having a difficult time, try looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “I forgive you for [insert thing].” Continue doing this every day. You’ll find it helps. This technique also works for other doubts and fears you might have.

If someone in your life is repeatedly guilt tripping you, true or false, and you are having difficulty dealing with it, consider taking a break from them for a while. If you give yourself some time away your mind will be clearer and you’ll be better able to process what’s really going on and whether or not the guilt is true guilt. If it’s not, you can then ignore it. If it is, then you’ll know you have some forgiving to do.

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