I PLEAD GUILTY !
Since everything is about ME (isn’t it?)
– it must be me, I’m always wrong
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NOTE: See ACRONYM page for abbrev.
Guilt is not a primary emotion, like anger, joy, sadness… But it is one of the most intense & often-felt emotions by ACoAs. It is a familiar companion of negative self-talk & to actions we believe to be bad, but may not be.
• Guilt is connected to self-hate: since our default position is that we’re intrinsically bad, anything & everything that goes wrong for us is OUR FAULT. This leads to perfectionism – the obsession about being soooo good, without flaws – that we’ll finally be loved, accepted, understood… BY WHOM? Of course – our family — & then everyone else in the whole world !
(This self-hate assumption is never supposed to be questioned & is very hard to give up, even when we ‘know better’ – because it makes us feel less vulnerable, a little more powerful! After all, if “it’s my fault, then it’s in my control – so I can fix it, change something in me or in the other person – to make it all better”!)
1. Guilt is an emotion – generated by ↩
2. Breaking a law or rule – of ↩
3. Society, government, religion, community, school or family.
4. What category of rules do we most often break, when we’re feeling guilty? toxic FAMILY RULES ! (“If you don’t like it you have to stay! / My needs don’t count”….)
Therefore – guilt is caused by any thought or action which represents disobedience to rules we internalized as kids. Guilt is about what we DO. (Picture = Hogwots’ Wall of rules)
IMPORTANT to remember:
• we don’t have to consciously agree with the rule – but the WIC has to believe it applies to it, no matter how much we may hate it or intellectually know better.
• most ACoAs don’t even realize we’ve absorbed those toxic rules & are
automatically obeying them – but we can tell by our life patterns. They’re things we do over & over, automatically.
✶ If the family rules were healthy, we would be doing positive, self-esteeming things, most of the time.
✶ If the rules were unhealthy, we act on them in ways which hurt ourselves and others, on a regular basis.
EXAMPLES: We feel guilty for —
• not making our parents, friends, lovers, children… happy
• making anyone angry at us, no matter what the reason
• not being able to stop someone from drinking, drugging, or doing other self-destructive things
• standing up for our rights, needs, tastes… (we think it’s selfish & that we’re being confrontational)
• getting sick, being tired, not wanting to do something …
• taking time for ourselves, needing down time, taking a vacation
• for not knowing something or taking a long time to learn things (we have so many ‘shoulds’)
• having need, desires, our own opinions, likes & dislikes
• not being smarter, more sociable, more successful, more outgoing, PERFECT….
5. PURPOSE of Guilt:
➼ To make us go back to obeying the law or rule we broke. Being able to feel guilt is a natural & positive thing. It’s built into our psyche, like the ability to love. People who are devoid of guilt are called sociopaths / psychopaths. The issue for most ACoAs is that we feel guilty about things that are not actually bad – like having needs, or emotions !
6. RESULTs of breaking Toxic Family Rules:
✧ Internal Backlash, in the form of – yes, guilt – but also: getting sick, feeling depressed, heightened anxiety, panic attacks, being irritable…
✧ External Backlash – possibly from family, if you’re in contact with them, since they want you to ‘stick to the plan’ & not abandon them by being different. Also from friends, bosses, mates, even children – for the same reason – they’re used to you the ‘old’ way & don’t want to make any changes in themselves to accommodate our growth!
OK, so WHAT IF we :
● identify the TOXIC family rules we’ve internalized
● decide that obeying those rules actually prevents our recovery process
● that in order to heal & grow, we have to stop obeying those rules —- What should we expect?
7. HEALTH: Yes, at the very least, the painful emotion of guilt. But:
✶ This time – the guilt is a SIGNAL that we’re doing something good for ourselves. Since we don’t want to return to obeying the toxic rules, we need to THINK differently about our actions, & say to ourselves:
“This emotion is actually a signal that I’m on the right track – when I’m doing the opposite of what I learned as a child, I’m doing something healthy by NOT obeying a harmful rule, so YEAH!”
✶ If we continue to dis-obey toxic rules, the guilt will eventually diminish & perhaps even go away completely. So, it’s imperative that we tolerate this kind of guilt and other kinds of backlash, in the short-term, & continue thinking & acting in self-esteeming / self-empowering ways, even in the face of opposition.
✶ Because this process is stressful, we need the right kinds of supportive people in our life, to encourage, correct confusing thoughts, reinforce our resolve & laud our progress. A long as the support is positive, it can come from anywhere – clergy, healthy family members, friends, therapy, books, internet, 12-step meetings, rehab for co-dependence, spiritual disciplines…
✶ When we repeat new, healthy actions, we form new pathways in the brain which then make it easier & more natural to be comfortable & successful in all aspects of our lives.
NEXT: What is Shame (#1)