I refer to guilt that stems from transgressing your value system as primary guilt. It is a message from your conscience that you are not living according to your personal truth. This guilt should be felt and can only be resolved by living according to your values. Guilt felt for any other reason stems from fears, and I call this secondary guilt. It is the emotion felt but it is hiding a fear.
Guilt as a Fear of not Belonging
Family Therapist, Bert Hellinger, discusses in his book Acknowledging What Is, that a sense of belonging to a family helps maintain our innocence while the fear of not belonging provokes a sense of guilt. This guilt is experienced from interactions with others, when we perceive that our behaviour, actions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs will lead to being rejected, abandoned or no longer belonging to a peer group, family, community or “tribe.” It is our fear of not belonging because of who we are that creates the emotion of guilt.
Women are more prone to feel secondary guilt – from their fears of rejection and abandonment. The kinds of relationships and connections women make are different to those of men, in general. Men belong in a more physical way to groups. Women belong through communication, commonality, and acceptance. This leaves women more vulnerable to guilt stemming from a fear of not belonging.
Guilt and Motherhood
Linking back to my previous blog post, my discussion of women in their role of mother only compounds the experience of guilt for women. Dedicating so much of their heart and soul to nurturing, supporting, and serving their family’s women create a sense of belonging through this role. The fear that they will be abandoned, rejected, and isolated from the very people they have given so much to triggers actions based on maintaining these relationships. Any perceived sense of not belonging to their children or their partners evokes a sense of guilt about the choices they have made and the actions they have taken.
But for generations of women who were raised feeling ‘less-than’ their sense of worth complicates their propensity for guilt feelings. When a woman doesn’t know she is worthy simply because she exists, she searches for validation from others. Filtering the world through a cultural perception of worthlessness means she is looking for others to approve, accept, and love her so she can feel worthy. When this doesn’t occur not only will she feel worthless but guilty for being the way she is.
This secondary guilt, which reflects a fear of not belonging, of rejection, of abandonment, of not being accepted, loved, or approved of and of being worthless is counterproductive for a happy life. There is nothing helpful about this kind of guilt. It’s not telling you to live your life according to your truth. In fact, it is more likely that you will give up yourself to conform to other people’s values purely for the purpose of belonging to them.
Looking Inside for Validation
To resolve this kind of guilt we have to stop looking to our external world for validation. It is vital that we heal the wounds formed from false cultural, family, religious, and societal beliefs about our worth. When we internalise these beliefs, we create a story in our own mind about the conditions and requirements to participate in the group we want to belong to. This means we stay focused on making others happy in the hope they will love and accept us.
When we sacrifice our own happiness to belong, well, then we are simply miserable. There is every reason to surmise that the high level of depression present in society could stem from the burden of guilt, worthlessness, and fear suffocating our lives.
The challenge with secondary guilt is that the process to eliminate it makes us vulnerable to the very fears that feed it in the first place. A great deal of this guilt is felt based on assumptions. The fastest way to fix that is to clarify your fears. Find out if what you think is really true. While it has been proven that women use 20,000 words a day compared to a man’s 7,000, they often use less of them to ask for their needs to be met or clarify their connections, belonging, or worth in their relationships with children or partners.
Now, if by chance someone did reply, “Yes, I do want you to be silent like this or subservient like that. Or I don’t want to hear your opinions about these topics and if you do, I will be mad with you and I will want to push you away and reject you,” then you’ve got a choice to make. The question must be asked: if the person doesn’t want you to be you and enjoy and value all of who you are, why do you want them in your life?
Throw out the guilt and the people who don’t value you all at the same time!
Of course, that may not always be possible, depending on the relationship you have with the person. But you still have a choice. You may now know how they want to you be but you can choose to value yourself and surrender the guilt by changing the connection you have with that person. Guilt sucks the joy out of life.
We can interact with others differently
It really is possible to communicate, interact, and participate in groups with no desire to be accepted by them. Let go of the guilt by letting go of the need to belong to those who refuse to accept you for the person you are. Save your gift of belonging to another for those able and willing to honour it.
How possible would this be for you?