- Esther Ruth Friedman
Book Teaser Series: The Guilt Experiment
Happy Spring Gentle Souls,
I hope that you're all doing well. This post is one in a series of book teasers. I hope that these snippets are helpful.
Guilt is nobody's favorite topic. Most people prefer toothaches-- at least there's Advil. When guilt arrives, we tend to push it away. However, guilt is just a smoke signal. It points out something that has gone askew. It vies for attention to resolve this issue and right your personal, moral compass. Healthy guilt is useful. Weaponized guilt, on the other hand, is toxic. Those who wield guilt for selfish gain have radar that identifies people with outsized feelings of emotional and relational responsibility.
In the wrong hands, Gentle Soul, your empathy can become a liability. Permeable, or non-existent, personal boundaries leave you vulnerable to pathologically self-serving people.
We do things like apologize as a peace-making strategy. The words,"I'm sorry," become a tactic to calm an aggressor, to placate an accuser. It makes us feel like we can control the circumstance. But that only furthers a false sense of security.
Words have power. Over time, false confessions wear you down. Apologizing, strategically, on the regular, fortifies contrived guilt. Over time, the more that you proclaim your alleged guilt, the more some parts of your psyche start believing the lie.
Dr. Robert J Lifton's, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, study of 'brainwashing' in China, (the go-to book for cultic studies experts) illustrates thought reform tactics in Communist China's "re-education" camps. One powerful facet of "re-education" -- false confessions. One interviewee told Lifton:
"What they try to impress on you is a complex of guilt. The complex I had was that I was guilty. ...I was a criminal--that was my feeling, day and night." (p.68)
How do you discern healthy, inner smoke signal, guilt, from toxic, manipulation for selfish gain, guilt? The simple answer: boundaries. Not easy. It requires practice. When you feel the guilt, you pump the brakes to give yourself time and space. An immediate benefit of setting boundaries: you will quickly learn who does, and does not, respect your time and space. Longterm, you clarify your personal parameters, and build the muscles you need to protect them.
Enter, The Guilt Experiment: You'll see that when you take charge of the guilt, it no longer takes charge of you. This requires hanging out with guilt, without numbing it, or pushing it away. Listening to it, while NOT give it the steering wheel - guilt on its own, muddies your thinking. It won't make the best decisions. The goal is clarity and calm. Your pre-frontal cortex, the brain's executive suite, can then kick into gear and guide your actions.
So, when encountering a guilt-inducing event, try this Step-by-Step...
1) Notice the cloud. Welcome it and DON'T push it away. Don't make decisions. Feel the guilt without caving into an immediate apology, or reparative action.
2) Give this cloud a specific time allotment. You could set a timer for 20 minutes, so your psyche knows that the experiment is time-limited. Then do something to calm your anxiety: journal; walk; call a trustworthy friend, or write them an email; practice yoga.
3) When the timer goes off, check in with yourself. What are you feeling? Relief? Worry? Is your heart calmer, or more anxious? Is your mind clearer, or more muddled? Relief often signals that you can put down an emotional burden - it's likely that you're taking on too much responsibility. On the other hand, if you feel the need to do something reparative, follow up.
The critical piece, here: YOU decide. No external source can, or should, dictate your decision.
Guilt can be leveraged to blind and bind us. But when you tolerate the feeling, listen to the message, without following the marching orders, it either informs, or drops away. In either case, no one else can weaponize your guilt. That's why, when you take charge of the guilt, it no longer takes charge of you.
I'd love to hear from folks who try this out. Please share in the comments!
In The Gentle Souls Revolution, boundaries are your sword and shield. Want to learn more? Click HERE to buy the book! Thanks for reading, enjoy the weekend, and inhale, exhale. You've got this!