Ten Questions Measuring Guilt
Guilt issues occupy a great deal of our time, some of us have grown up with guilt as the motivating factor in almost every choice or decision we have ever made. We have guilt-trips, guilt inducing foods, guilty verdicts, social guilt, religious guilt, moral guilt and the list goes on. A healthy dose of guilt is good for us according to some; it is the arbiter of our conscious, our moral and ethical braking system, our social awareness, personal values, even our weight and health depend on it! Other experts caution against too much guilt which leads to any number of maladaptive concerns such as perfectionism, manipulation, obsessive compulsive disorder and the like. A great deal has also been written about those who seem not to suffer from any form of guilt at all, those without conscience or remorse, the narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths who fascinate us with their callous disregard for others and complete lack of shame. We are often mesmerized by the idea that it’s possible for some to live without any guilt whatsoever.
In measuring guilt and how it operates in daily life, I have drawn an interesting conclusion: there appear to be four basic forms of guilt. The first of which is that guilt is a way of stopping us from doing what would be considered morally, ethically, spiritually and/or culturally wrong, like stealing, lying etc. the second type of guilt is a motivator, meaning if one doesn’t do something one will feel guilty, for example not reporting a crime, not doing something we have committed to doing, not living up to standards set by ourselves and others. Either of these two forms may be self-imposed or imposed upon us by others, internal or external. We can have internal or external braking guilt or internal or external motivating guilt, or indeed any combination of the four. So where does one draw the line between the kinds of guilt and shame that prevent us from doing wrong and motivate us towards right action versus being overburdened by so much guilt that we are too encumbered and cease to function in a healthy fashion? And what about those who seem to blithely bear no culpability at all for their actions?
No guilt at all seems very unappealing to most healthy individuals, however sometimes we have to break our word with others in order to be true to ourselves. Having a really big guilt button leaves us very susceptible to manipulation by less scrupulous individuals, higher levels of depression, poor self-image, and weak personal boundaries. Too little guilt and we become victims of our own selfish disdain for others, disliked, disrespected, criminalized, jailed, avoided or shunned altogether. So how do you figure out the best course of action with the greatest possibility for good outcomes for all involved? I use this list of questions for myself and for my clients, the analysis of which often helps to clarify the best choice in any given situation.
1. Am I willing to accept the consequences of my words and actions?
2. Is this guilt I am feeling stopping me or is it a motivating factor? Or a combination of both?
3. What are the possible outcomes if I take or do not take this action?
4. Who or what is imposing this guilt?
5. Is this guilt internal, i.e. coming from my conscience based on my own moral, ethical, spiritual, cultural values?
6. Is this guilt external i.e. coming from an outside source such as a boss, friend, spouse etc? What you are examining here is whether or not someone else is attempting to impose their values on you. Are those outside values congruent with your own and would you feel comfortable standing up for your choices if they are different from those being asked of you.
7. Are you on the receiving end of a “guilt trip”? Are you being judged for acting or not acting in the manner someone else wants you to behave in order to further their agenda with little or no regard for your needs, feelings, or differences of opinion?
8. Are you more concerned with how you will appear to others or worried that others will think less of you if you do something or fail to do something?
9. Is it really worth all this worry? If the answer is no, make a decision and let it go. If the answer is yes, sleep on it and decide when you have had a chance to settle down.
10. Consider decisions on an individual basis rather than on what you have decided in the past. Each situation is different and as we come to understand ourselves with greater depth, our values change over time. So what may have been an acceptable choice last year, last week or even yesterday may look very different from today’s perspective.
Remember it’s healthy and customary to feel some guilt some of the time. We can always apologize and more importantly make amends for the wrongs we have committed in the past, learn from our mistakes, and move on. Guilt only becomes an issue when it is entirely absent or when it burdens us to the point of being unable to function comfortably within the scope of reasonable expectations for normal, everyday living.

Author's Bio: 

Alison L. Longley is a Master of Clinical Hypnotherapy, certified practitioner of NLP, PSYCH-K, Heart Resonance energy work and HypnoBirthing prenatal education. She is the owner/operator of Breakthrough Wellness Centre in Vancouver British Columbia, Canada. For more information, please visit her website at: