Why Bother Letting Go of False Guilt?
Among my variety of friends, I have noticed how some of them carry more false guilt than others. My observational data shows how most of those who are first born children or older children in the family are the ones who feel the most obligated. Those farther down the ladder in birth order feel it less, if at all. Sometimes, I get to be a trusted listener when a friend unpacks some of their deep seated beliefs and when they do, they begin to realize how false guilt is actually futile thinking.
Letting Themselves off the Hook
A relative of mine once said that guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. But I would clarify the statement to say that false guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. True guilt drives us toward change. When I unleash my anger and offend someone with my words, I am guilty of wrongdoing. When I feel remorse for hurting someone, I am motivated to repair the damage. Somehow, I will ask the one I offended to forgive me and hopefully they will. True guilt drives us to do right after doing wrong. True guilt does not linger. It does not continue to accuse, unlike false guilt.
False guilt pushes us toward trying to do the impossible. It talks us into doing a particular task, favor, chore, or job in order to keep the peace or make someone else happy. Other times, we are driven by false guilt into “shoulding” on ourselves. We tell ourselves we “should” do this task, favor, chore or job because we are the oldest, because Mother would want me to, or because no one else will.
One thing is true about false guilt: it never takes a rest. Though making another person happy is impossible, false guilt tells us to keep on trying. Though we may want to go against the grain of our birth order and try not be so obsessive about feeling responsible for everything, false guilt warns us of the possible consequences. We can’t shun our duty because the world may come to an end. Even if Mother is long gone and in the grave, false guilt can still use the sound of her voice in our head, warning us of the things we should and should not do. Yes, false guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. Just thinking about letting it go can make us feel guilty. But setting ourselves free from it is similar to disassociating ourselves from a tyrannical taskmaster.
Why bother letting go of false guilt? False guilt is worth letting go of when we ask ourselves this question, “Who wants futile thinking to be in charge of their lives?” Not me!