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The Guilt Trip’s End

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. After the regular Sunday routine of preparing-for-the-week-ahead-rest-and-some-more-rest, Instagram beckoned, and I complied. Just out of curiosity, I had posted a question on my story, asking what people would look for in a self-help book, if they were to buy one. The answers I received were intriguing to say the least.
Starting from this piece, I am addressing each one of those topics which they have written back to me in response, either in a context I can write from, or in the context asked, whichever applicable.

One of the responses that came in, was “Guilt Free Parenting.”
Now, since I am not a parent of a child, I am in no position to comment or write about guilt-free parenting, for I am quite sure that the dynamics of having a child – which can be dramatically romantic for one and drearily mundane for another – is something that only those who have experienced it can talk about. What I can write about however, is this underlying personality trait, which is “feeling guilt” for anything in the first place.
I strongly believe that our personality traits spill over from one aspect of life to everywhere else, sooner or later – and being prone to excessive guilt, is one such trait.

What is Guilt?

Going by the Oxford dictionary, guilt is “A feeling of having committed wrong or failed in an obligation.”
Yet another interesting definition found on the web is “Feeling responsible or regretful for a perceived offense, real or imaginary. Can be part of the grief reaction.”

Before any further ado, let’s get the classification of types of guilt clear, and sorted.

Classifications of times when we feel guilty:

  1. When we did something wrong or didn’t do something which was expected of us – An essential.
  2. When we did nothing but we feel we could have done something about the matter at hand – Debatable.
  3. For something we did or didn’t do, without fully understanding what was expected, or without fully understanding the consequences. (Well well, I’m sure your mind is racing!)
  4. For failing at something, miserably.
  5. For succeeding at something, overwhelmingly
  6. For the failure/ difficulties of others

Forgiving – The only solution

There’s a lot left to discuss on the hazardous (yes, that’s the word I choose) effects of misplaced guilt, why it is actually alluring to feel guilty (surprising, isn’t it!), and the neuroscience behind it (geek alert!) but that’s for entirely different blogposts, altogether.
Cutting to the chase, there is only one solution to stop feeling misplaced guilt, and that is to forgive. When it comes to forgiving, people can be broadly classified into two types. Skip to the part relevant to you based on the type you belong to:

  1. Those who can forgive themselves easily, but cannot forgive somebody who has wronged them.
  2. Those who can forgive others easily, but forgiving themselves is out of question

1.For those who find it hard to forgive others
If you’re somebody who finds it hard to forgive, it only means three things.

a. You let go of the people who wronged you – Now, there is no distinct line which can be drawn in life, to say that if one crosses that line, then it is ‘reasonable’ to cut somebody out of your life. And since this line is not an absolute one, it varies from person to person. So if you’re someone who struggles to forgive people, cutting them out of your life might be one way for you to go on with life, feeling safe/better that you have one less person to cause trouble or wrong you again. But considering that all human beings are susceptible to faults, it is a thought I wish to leave you with- Would you rather have a handful of people with you who might still offend you or hurt you or cause you pain at some point of time or the other; or plentiful with whom you have ignored the multitudes of wrongdoings, without which you would never have a full house? Neither is right, neither is wrong. It is a choice, and one that can be improvised/fine tuned with time. I have read about people forgiving those who murdered their small children, and I have also heard of families who disown their son or daughter who married into another caste, religion, country. Is it right to forgive a murderer? Is it wrong for the families to disown their own children? There is no right and wrong at the end of it. Life is just a million shades of grey! 

b. You guilt trip them – If you have trouble in forgiving people but you’re not cutting them out of your life or taking a step back with them, then it is bound to be that you will lash out, sooner or later. (And maybe, quite frequently!) While you may not be the one experiencing guilt at that moment, there’s somebody else you’re inflicting it upon. Leaving you with a thought, is it really necessary?

c. You find yourself losing people often – There are some people who feel guilty when their close ones make them feel guilty. And then there are those who just walk away, leaving you questioning the humanity of the world today. Written from the shoes of someone who has been wronged, isn’t it only fair to expect the one who wronged me to take the guilt and live in it for a while? What happens when they walk away? What happens, when this becomes a pattern? Well, suffice it to say that it becomes a vicious loop. A thought before ending this – is there a better way to go about?

2. For those who find it hard to forgive themselves
While it might be widely accepted that the environment around you can make you a perfectionist, there are proven studies that this alone is simply not true. If it were the environment alone, then at least the siblings of the same family ought to have been replicas of each other with similar values, goals, and approach towards life. Just taking a look at our siblings (for those who have one), and this theory falls flat! Those who find it hard to forgive themselves are usually ones with greater responsibility, whose mistakes cost not just themselves but people around them who are dependent on them in some way or the other. These are the people who have either been raised by highly critical parents, or are sensitive to being appraised. These are also the people who usually get things right, which makes it hard for them to accept and forgive themselves when they go wrong.

Despite all this being said, forgiving becomes easy when we realise why it is beneficial for us to forgive, rather than when showcasing it as a trait akin to generosity. Imagine guilt to be a bag that keeps piling up each time you do something wrong. And forgiving would be the subtracting factor from this pile. Day after day, at the grocery shop, at the shopping mall, amidst traffic, at the workplace, in a security check queue, at a cafe, during a spa session (yes, even then!), on a train/bus/flight, at home, on the playground (You get the point, this list is endless!), things can go wrong, and either you or someone opposite to you may be at the wrong end that day. Every single day, would you rather pile up unpleasantness, or subtract it? Years later, would you rather have a bag of trash that needs cleansing (one that is bound to be time consuming, unpleasant, stinking and high in effort), or an empty one? Would you rather feel heavy, or light?

That’s the only choice we have, choose wisely! Forgiveness after all, is that solution that dissolves guilt completely, leaving no traces of it whatsoever!


  • sindhura rajagopal

    Very nice and an insightful writing, Sandhya. How true! Forgiveness is a beautiful way of practising peace in life. It does more good to the one who believes in it than the one receiving it. Wonderful piece of writing dear friend.

  • Shruti Balasa

    Very well written! True it is. Personality traits do spill over. And a very nice picture drawn about guilt being that bag that keeps piling up! So better dissolve it. Wonderful!

    • Sandhya

      Thank you! πŸ™‚ Absolutely, better to dissolve before it reacts with anything else and precipitates!

    • Srividya Nagarajan

      Wow! Infact all of this boils down to acceptance. Accepting people for what they are is the most toughest thing anyone can attempt!
      Thank you for bringing the perspectives so well out! πŸ™‚

      • Sandhya

        Oh absolutely! You’ve just touched a nerve by talking about “acceptance”! Maybe a conversation, or a blogpost later! Thanks Srividya πŸ™‚

  • kala

    One can forgive, one can let go, one can just ignore.
    Where is the time to nurture unforgiveness? Time softens wounds and hurts. Time is the healer.

    Rubaru roshni.

    • Sandhya

      That’s an amazing question. “Where is the time to nurture forgiveness?” If we start nurturing it today, maybe there will come a day when ten minutes would be enough to reach a state of absolute forgiveness – both towards oneself and others?

  • Kala

    Where is the time to nurture unforgiveness? I should have put it differently. Where is the time to nurture hatred or grudge?

    • Sandhya

      You meant that way! Fair enough! πŸ™‚ A play of words, playing across differently, with just synonyms! πŸ™‚

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