By: Madiha Malik
We all know that guilt is an emotion that works to keep us on track. Whenever we make a mistake or do something unethical, guilt comes in to help us rectify our actions. However, there is something we do not talk about when it comes to the boundaries that need to be placed on this emotion. Like every other emotion, guilt also needs to be regulated. Just like it is not okay or healthy for us to feel sad, or angry all the time. It is not healthy for us to feel guilty all the time either. In this article, we will discuss ways to recognize whether your guilt is healthy and helping you change your life for the better or keeping you stuck.
What is Unnecessary Guilt?
If you are a parent, you may have felt guilty for not being able to do a certain thing for your child, even though you know that you do your best every single day. Maybe you felt it when you were not able to help someone you care about deeply. This feeling might have taken over if you studied hard or prepared for days for the job you have always wanted, but the results were not what you expected. Most of us feel guilty over things that occurred in the past that we can no longer change and are unable to fully move on.
Culturally speaking, guilt is something that also gets passed on from generation to generation in the form of unmet expectations. Making each other feel guilty has become a learned pattern of communication within our communities. Parents in our culture make their children feel guilty e.g., not choosing the careers they expected, not marrying the person they wanted, not fulfilling their expectations on the wedding day, not contributing enough financially, not spending enough time with them, and the list goes on. This generational guilt is damaging so many homes in our community. For example, there are homes where men feel guilty prioritizing their wives and children because their parents make them feel they have not done enough for them yet. Many children do the same. They make their parents feel guilty for not being able to fulfill all their expectations. Spouses make each other feel unnecessary guilt as well.
How Does Unnecessary Guilt Affect Our Self-Esteem and Worth?
When we allow unnecessary guilt to run our lives, we eventually begin to feel bad about ourselves. Our narrative becomes critical instead of kind, loving, and accepting. Then, there could be others who are contributing to that guilt as well. It could be your children, parents, spouse, friends, or employer. Subconsciously, this guilt begins to affect our ability to feel happy, and content with ourselves. It hinders our ability to dream, set goals, and believe in ourselves because we constantly feel that we are not good enough. And that is the biggest damage we can ever experience. The feeling that we are not good enough.
How Can We Regulate this Emotion and Set Boundaries?
1. Let us give ourselves credit and appreciation for what we do.
We need to tell ourselves that it is a big deal, and it matters when we wake up and get to work for our family every day. It matters when we do our best to meet all their needs. We must recognize the hard work and the genuine efforts we put into our career/education. We need to remind ourselves often of the kind things we do for our family, friends, and the community because this will give us a boost when others make us feel guilty.
2. Let us learn to differentiate Islamic expectations from cultural ones.
We need to remember that Allah (SWT) has created every single one of us to thrive. Allah (SWT) wants us to do our best, but culturally, people will keep asking for more until we are drained and have no energy left for ourselves. He (SWT) forgives our mistakes, so should we. If we do not feel inner peace and contentment within a relationship, then something is not right. When we have done enough, then that is enough. We cannot become stronger as an Ummah if we continue down this road where instead of appreciating, we are constantly guilt-tripping each other.
3. Let us set the limit where we have done our best.
No human can ever be perfect. We can only do our best. It is okay to take it easy. It is okay to allow ourselves to tell others we have done our best.
4. Let the past remain in the past and stop blaming ourselves.
We cannot undo the past. However, we can apply what we learn from the past to our everyday lives. We can focus on not making the same decisions/actions. Our present moment is what matters the most and truly counts. The blame game is damaging to relationships as well. Healthy relationships require that we realize the more we make each other feel blamed, the more we will become distant. Nobody wants to be in the company of people who make us feel guilty. Strong relationships are built on acceptance and forgiveness including the ones we have with ourselves. Let us forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and move on.