Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Guilt, Guilt, and More Guilt...

This next blog was inspired by a friend of the family who seems to struggle with these issues. It wasn't just her, though. It is a common issue that I see at work on a weekly basis with clients and even with myself. Now, however, I've come to a conclusion that seems to work and make sense regarding guilt. Guilt is something that we all seem to feel when we do something we wish we hadn't; when we don't live up to a perceived, subjective, or actual expectation (see how complicated it can be?). A perceived and/or subjective expectation is one that we have judged to be of value or importance. We place a value on it. If we do not achieve that expectation then we "guilt" ourselves by saying to ourselves that we are "terrible, awful, bad." A real or actual expectation has more to do with a decreed law that is irrevocable. We do the same thing when breaking that law. Now, to continue on to the nature of guilt
First off, there actually seems to be two types of guilt. The first one is actually not even guilt, but is remorse. I will give my definition and purpose of remorse and then the dictionary's definition. I see remorse as motivating sorrow for an act that we committed against the expectations we have (see above for expectations). Remorse is a positive motivator to change our behaviors that do not work or promote positive growth. Remorse is highly value laden as the individual can only feel remorse if they have broken a perceived value. Remorse does not involve shaming or demeaning oneself in any manner. Webster's online dictionary states remorse as: a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs. It's possible now as I read it that a definition of sorrow would be more appropriate for my interpretation of sorrow. However, for the time being I'll continue to use remorse.

The second type of guilt is--well, it's just plain old guilt. Guilt, in this case is a self-demeaning action that is done to shame oneself for having broken an expectation (my interpretation). Now for Webster's: 1 : the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly : guilty conduct
2 a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : SELF-REPROACH
3 : a feeling of culpability for offenses
I find it interesting that the first definition involves the placing of a "penalty." Guilt, as I see it, is placing a negative and overly harsh consequence on oneself. Being that it is demeaning and results in a greater "sense of inadequacy" it doesn not seem to foster self-actualization (Maslow's Heirarchy: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs), self-worth building, or healing. In fact, it does the exact opposite. What I see in my job and personal life (friends and family) is a lot more of the second guilt than the first. It is hard to say why we all seem to fall into guilting ourselves, but my perception is that a majority of us do it. The second guilt is almost in competition with the first and mocks growth and development. They are opposites and compete for dominance. I'd say that the second is doing quite well, especially in the mental health industry.
Why do we do the second more often? Each therapist, depending on their preferred model might have differing opinions. I will not attempt all of the models of thinking. I will just say this. We always do something for a reason. If we guilt ourselves for a reason and it is not working, replace the behavior with one that will. If you want to "peal the layers" to find out "why" you do what you do, go for it. The increased self-awareness will be helpful in figuring out what isn't working. Much of the reason, I believe, has to do with an individual's self-worth. If one does not feel much self-worth, then it is easier to be negative as it feels more real. Then, as this is the case, one must begin the process of change by just "doing" what will work. Not thinking about it. Just DO IT! If you normally put yourself down, do the opposite. Build yourself up! It really doesn't take much. All you have to do is start with simple silly things such as saying in the morning, "I like myself." If it is difficult to do it, then just do it anyway. Your mind will follow suit. Guilting oneself can become a habit. We do it for a payoff and a reason (negative). So, just change it. Change must be hard in order for it to stick and be worth it.
Well, that's all for today. Catch ya on a re-run...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A little on relationships...

This is more of a fun blog today. As part of my job I see all ages and situations. One of my favorites is couple's counseling. I get the chance to see how a couple interacts and how each individual's characteristics and traits combine and clash. One of the biggest things that causes problems that I see in relationships is just plain old contentious patterns. The definition of contention is as follows according to dictionary.com.
a struggling together in opposition; strife.
a striving in rivalry; competition; contest.
strife in debate; dispute; controversy.
a point contended for or affirmed in controversy.

Basic relationship problems seem to stem form all four. However, opposition and strife as well as general contention seem to be a huge cause of it. Then the real fun begins when we delve deeper into what "causes" (and I use that word lightly--I do not believe in determinism and I support agency and free will) opposition, strife, and contention in a relationship. Some may say that it is due to incompatible personalities. Others to stress. If we were to add stress into the picture, we could also peal away the layers to find out what is the root or core of the problem. Before I go further into what the root is, I would like to explain my view on its importance. If a new disease showed up that had various adverse symptoms a medical doctor/scientist would not only attempt to treat the symptoms, but to discover the virus or bacteria that was causing the symptoms. Once the source was discovered they would attempt to eradicate it through whatever treatments or therapies were available or developed. Thus, by eradicating the source the symptoms disappear. It seems, at times, that knowing the root of a relationship problem would also be helpful. Rather than treat a symptoms (such as stress--which I view as a symptom) it would be more beneficial to address the core issue. It makes sense to me. Some therapies attempt to do just that. REBT, which was coined by Albert Ellis focuses on discovering the irrational beliefs behind neurotic emotions; and then disputing and changing them. Other cognitive behavioral approaches do similar things. It requires a desire to peal away the layers of negative behaviors to discover the stinky core. Many times, it seems, that the stinky core is plain old fashioned selfishness. Wanting things your own way. Expecting your partner to change rather than looking at yourself. Once one begins pointing their fingers at others it can be (but is not always the case) a good indicator that the problem is your own. Webster's online dictionary states that selfishness is: 1 : concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others
2 : arising from concern with one's own welfare or advantage in disregard of others selfish act>. Refusing to look at oneself and placing blame and responsibility on one's partner is selfish. Regard for your partner is out the window and pursuing your own advantage replaces it. That does not seem to appear to work in most relationships. There is the occasional exception to this, but at times it requires one person to be naturally overbearing and the other somewhat subservient. They do not see or perceive it as a problem. Some may say, then, that there is no problem in such a case. I will not delve into that subject, for I am not a philosopher and relationship rules, morals, and guidelines can become hazy for some. Returning back to the point at hand. If there is a problem in a relationship it is wise to exercise a level of self-awareness in order to discover the core issue--selfishness being one that is common. Self-awareness and humility can help address the core issue as it is discovered. It is hard for most of us to look at the natural tendencies that we have that just don't seem to work well. We did them for a purpose and developed them as a part of our behavioral repertoire. Why would we want to change them? The answer is simple--if they don't work anymore, replace them. That takes work. If it seems as if the old behavior isn't working, then remember something that William James said (this is not the exact quote, but it is close)--"It is better to act ourselves into thinking differently, rather than thinking ourselves into acting differently." I know it's not the exact quote, but you get the picture. Just follow the old Nike motto--"Just do it!" Sometimes we just have to do things rather than think about them. We may find if we just do it then our thinking will follow suit.
I may continue more on this at a later time, but it is late. Until next time...