It is only too easy to compel a sensitive human being to feel guilty about anything.
Morton Irving Seiden
Almost everyone is familiar with the feeling of guilt. It’s that unpleasant feeling that you’ve done something wrong, or aren’t living up to others’ or your own ideals.
Guilt is often accompanied by a harsh inner voice, aggressively telling you the countless ways that you are failing. It’s no wonder that frequent guilt wears down your self-confidence and feelings of worth.
In the book Conquer your Critical Inner Voice by Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D, Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., and Joyce Catlett, M.A., the authors discuss how guilt can occur when you are making progress towards your goals and when you aren’t.
The first type of guilt, neurotic guilt, occurs when you feel you are being “selfish” for working towards things you want or need. At some level, this type of guilt stems from feelings of not being deserving of happiness or success. You’re critical voice may influence you to act in self-defeating and self-sabotaging ways that significantly lower any chances of success.
Your critical voice may sound something like this:
“Who do you think you’re kidding? You’re not smart enough to get that job. You never follow through with things. Other people deserve it more than you anyway.”
Whew! That’s pretty harsh! You may be surprised if you really try to listen in on how critical your inner voice can be.
The second type of guilt, existential guilt, kicks in when you’ve sabotaged your chances of succeeding. You feel that you should be using your skills and talents, but you missed an opportunity, and that you are letting yourself and others’ down (again!).
We can get trapped in an emotional catch-22. First guilt and your critical inner voice influence you to act in self-defeating ways, and then when things fall apart, your inner voice jumps in to tell you how you messed up and aren’t living up to your potential. No matter what approach you take, guilt sets you up in a no-win situation!
The good news is that there are ways to defend yourself from the one-two punch of guilt and the corresponding critical inner voice. The more that you understand guilt and act against your critical inner voice, the weaker their influence will be on your life.
Rather than being beaten down by critical voices that take away hope, energy, and motivation, you can focus your energy on living more freely and in accordance with your values.
You can read more about this topic in this article by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. at Psychology Today called Steps to Overcoming Your Critical Inner Voice.
Kathy is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Austin, Texas.
360 Counseling is her private practice.