WHAT IS GUILT
What is guilt? The short answer is: “It’s complicated.” The long answer is: “It’s an integral part of life and beyond our current ability to understand. The best we can do is scratch the surface.
A. Definition of Guilt
The dictionary defines guilt as a feeling of deserving blame for various offenses. Another definition is the unhappy feeling because you have done something you think was wrong. Wikipedia probably has the closest definition. It is a moral emotion when a person believes they may have compromised their standards.
Although related, it is not the same as shame. Shame arises from perceptions coming from others, whereas guilt arises from inside us. Sending everyone else to another planet may eliminate shame, but it would make guilt unbearable.
B. What Causes Guilt?
Many say that guilt arises from something we did or think we did or think we should have done. It also includes matters of chance, i.e., my friend lost all his money, and I did not lose anything.
All fears cause a degree of guilt, with the social fears having the most robust connections. Strange as it sounds, the lack of fear can also trigger guilt. People who were abused or encountered a traumatic event often feel guilt.
The causes of guilt are vast. However, one of the biggest causes is manipulation, and you can protect yourself against this through education and avoidance. All media, social networks, religion, and governments flourish on guilt. All movies are riddled with words, phrases, images, and sounds that generate guilt, including those labeled as documentaries. The entertainment industry inserts guilt into every romance novel/movie. Check out the chapter on Manipulation to learn the various fallacies and techniques.
C. Conventional Treatment Methods.
Many treatments have shown success. When the guilt is so severe that it becomes a phobia, such as obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, frequent thoughts of suicide, and many others, professional help is required. Putting off treatment can be life-threatening, and self-help is often inadequate. If you feel that your guilt is overwhelming, do yourself a favor. Seek out professional advice, and do not forget about insurance.
Many free clinics, state-sponsored programs, and philanthropic organizations can help. Online CBT therapies such as Talkspace, BetterHelp, ReGain, and many others are available. When dealing with health issues, do not overlook the potential for insurance coverage.
Standard Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the gold standard in treating fears. It is also an effective method of treating guilt. TrIGR therapy is one type of CBT that has been shown to benefit people who have PTSD. This therapy involves learning the types of guilt, analyzing the thinking errors, and developing recovery plans personal to you.
What is CBT? There are many books and articles on this subject. Watching a few Youtube™ videos and Ted talks can be helpful. There is an article on 25 CBT techniques and identifies available workshops.
D. Reducing Guilt by Forgiveness.
1. Negotiated Forgiveness.
This only applies to situations where you did something wrong. It does not apply to false negative thoughts, which occur most of the time.
This is where you approach the victims and ask them, “what can I do to make amends and for you to forgive me?” It is possible that they only want a verbal apology and to resume your friendship. This is the quickest way to find out where you stand with someone you have wronged. And, you might eliminate stored-up guilt. If you believe this is too simple to be credible, then you would be inconsistent with the fundamental laws of Nature, i.e., beautiful simplicity.
Although this method works for most cases, it does not apply to severe emotional injuries. That would require using the more Traditional Methods.
2. Forgiveness Using the Traditional Method.
The conventional wisdom is that if you did something wrong, you must acknowledge your responsibility and be genuinely sorry or remorseful for your actions.
(a) Acknowledge Responsibility. This first step requires an understanding of why you think you’re responsible. Sometimes it is obvious. For example, your friend informs you that she will make an offer to buy a home in a neighborhood closer to her parents. You make an anonymous offer that outbids her. You now feel guilty. You have breached your friend’s confidence. There is no criminal action or civil liability. But everyone understands that such conduct is morally and socially unacceptable.
Most people can quickly identify what triggered their guilt, such as in the earlier example. But that is not always true. For example, you won the lottery, and your friend, who also bought a ticket, did not win. You may feel guilty that you won and they did not. In this situation, false negative thoughts trigger your guilt. You do not apologise to anyone for a false negative thought.
There are some helpful rules to determine the validity of the reasons for your feeling of guilt. Often the basic knowledge that your guilt is based on a false negative thought is all that is necessary to reduce the guilt.
Scenario Number One –Based On Real Factual Actions/Inactions.
Your approach is slightly different if your guilt is based on wrongful actions/inactions. You must first determine if the person injured is within a “protected class”, such as a friendship, family member, close working relationship, other close fraternal, religious relationship, or some other real connection. There will always be someone adversely affected by any of your actions. That scope is too broad.
Society may have decided that the protected class must be increased to cover criminal acts and civil liabilities.
Next, the actual actions/inactions must be wrongful. It must violate some moral, legal, religious, social, or agreed-upon duty or obligation. For example, the social norms in a far-away land may be to not spit in public, but not where you live. In that event, spitting in public is not a wrongful act, and there is no further action needed. You treat the matter as a false negative thought.
The next step is to look if your actions caused actual harm. That means your actions must have caused hurt feelings or damage. This is a tricky issue. It does not mean that you are off the hook. In the earlier example, if your friend could not qualify for the home purchase, then you are not responsible for economic damages associated with the loss of sale. But it may apply to other elements, such as your breach of confidence, breach of trust, breach of ethics, etc. In that event, forgiveness for the economic injury may not be needed, but forgiveness of the other duties will be necessary.
If you did something, AND someone in the protected class was injured or had hurt feelings, AND your actions caused those injuries or hurt feelings, then proceed to the acknowledgement step.
The acknowledgement step comprises announcing, i.e., state out-loud (in a private location) your wrongful actions and the specific harm you caused. This must be repeated multiple times until you truly understand the consequences of your actions. Here are some guidelines.
(1) The more details you provide in the list, the easier it will be to forgive yourself. If you broadly state your actions, i.e. I outbid by a friend, the narrower the forgiveness will be. For example, you will feel guilty about breaching your friend’s confidence. You will continue to have guilt in failing to tell your friend (trustworthiness) what you did. You will continue to have guilt in securing an advantage over your friend (manipulation). The more specific you are, the broader your self-forgiveness will be.
(2) Identify why your actions were wrong. Again, the more specific, the better. For example, my church and the religious documents taught me that I should treat others the way I would want them to treat me. I breached that rule. My parents taught me that honesty is the foundation for all dealings. My teacher taught me to keep conversations with friends confidential. My friends taught me the importance of friendship and camaraderie. You may not know it, but your breaches to your church, parents, teachers and others may be as important in your subconscious as the breach to your friend.
(3) Identify exactly how you hurt your friend. Details are important. Use as many emotional words as possible, such as I was dishonest, untrustworthy, uncaring, greedy, mean, betraying, etc. If you told your friend that you would bid on the property, many emotions might not apply. But others may still apply, i.e., greedy, uncaring, etc.
In addition to identifying the emotions, the facts need to be stated. She lost the home she wanted, she paid more money for a less desirable home, she lost trust in me as a friend, she had to drive further, her credit was diminished, and she had to pay more for her loan or the interest rates have gone up and she suffered emotional distress. Again, only those facts caused by your actions/inactions are covered.
Scenario Number Two – Based on False Negative Thoughts.
Under this scenario, your perceived responsibility is based on a false negative thought, not a real act or failure to act. This might sound like an obvious distinction. It is not. The electrical signals in your brain that come from false negative thoughts are the same signals from factual observations. There is no difference between what you saw and what you think you saw. Here are some hints to help you distinguish between what is real and what is not.
(1) Almost all false negative thoughts carry emotions that are directed against you. For example, a young girl knocks on your door, pleading for food. You go to the refrigerator and get some food. By the time you return, the child has died. Do you feel guilty because you were too slow in providing food? Notice that this emotion is negative and is directed against you.
Can you identify the clothes the girl was wearing? If it was an actual situation, you could identify numerous non-emotional facts. False negative thoughts are not real and carry very few factual details. Actual observations always come with fundamental non-emotional points. This is an example of false negative thoughts from non-real events, such as dreams, hallucinations, fantasies, etc.
But be careful; false negative thoughts often arise from real factual situations. For example, you heard your friend mispronounce a word during a speech and thought it was funny. You felt guilty for thinking it was funny. This speech occurred, but the false negative thought was that you disrespected your friend. What facts can you recall relating to the disrespectful laughter? Can you describe the people around you who heard you laugh? What did they do? Did your friend stop talking and look at you when you laughed? Those facts are missing since it was a false negative thought. Missing background facts is an indication that it is a false negative thought.
(2) Mind Reading. Is the false negative thought based on your interpretation of what was in the mind of another? This is a common occurrence. It is a red flag that it is a false negative thought. Try and recall what words were used that gave you that impression. If it was a gesture, what was the gesture? How many times in your history have you misinterpreted words or gestures?
(3) All or Nothing or Black and White Situations. Is the negative thought based on something that leaves no room for alternatives or explanations? For example, you went to a job interview, and they asked a question that you did not anticipate. You felt unprepared. You did not get the job and felt you failed because you were unprepared. Can you think of any reason that your answer was adequate? If you cannot, then it is probably a false negative thought.
Here is another way to spot the all-or-nothing analysis. When you left the interview, did you say to yourself, “I really blew that one”, “I have no chance for this job,” I always lose it at the last minute,” etc. Those types of words are training words used by the Negative Thoughts Department of your brain to send out “it’s your fault” notice? If you ever said those kinds of things, you should now be able to spot false negative thoughts.
(4) Low Self-Esteem. Low self-esteem is not a true element of false negative thoughts. However, it increases your chances of having such thoughts. If you think you are a loser, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to detect, analyse, and overcome those thoughts.
How do you know if you have low self-esteem?
Number one, you say negative things about yourself. Things like:
- I can’t cope with that kind of pressure;
- I get picked on because I deserve it.
- I eat to relieve my emotional pain.
- I’m fat, I’m skinny, I’m ugly, I’m dumb, and many other things starting with “I’m.”
If you constantly look at the number of “likes” on your social media website for personal validation.
All of these factors point to potential low self-esteem. Ouch! Turn it around. Use this knowledge to your advantage, i.e., to understand you need help raising your self-esteem.
Number two, you have a hard time keeping a full-time job. This is usually a work ethic issue. There are very few hard-working people who have low self-esteem. It has very little to do with wealth or poverty. Hollywood is full of wealthy people with low self-esteem. If you are unsure whether you have a work ethic problem, go to work on a farm or ranch for a year. If you have difficulty getting out of bed when the rooster crows, that is an early hint.
Number three, you use alcohol or drugs to escape, i.e., to avoid coping with real-world problems. This is not the same thing as being chemically addicted. Those people need alcohol or drugs to satisfy a biological chemical need. This paragraph applies to those who drink to avoid criticism or to cope with daily problems. If you fall into this latter category, use that knowledge to improve your self-esteem.
Number four, you have difficulty making decisions on simple matters. What am I going to wear today? Where should we eat tonight? Should I take the freeway or stay on the surface streets? Should I go for a walk? In this regard, healthy people should take a walk daily with a sustaining goal of 10,000 steps daily.
Once you have determined that a false negative thought has caused your guilt, the next step is not to feel guilty. Although it might sound difficult, some actions will help you reduce (not eliminate) your guilt. But the solution is not exactly what you think. There is no acknowledgement of responsibility, and there is no apology.
The first thing you should do when you figure out that you have a false negative thought is to identify the thought as a false negative thought. The next thing you do is congratulate yourself on exposing the negative thought. Do something that brings you JOY. This congratulation step is crucial as it rewards you for spotting negative thoughts. When you recognize a false negative thought—stop what you are doing and SMILE. If you are alone, do a little dance. Do something fun that acknowledges your discovery. And do it every time.
(b) Remorse/I’m Sorry.
After you acknowledge your actions and responsibility, then you should apologize. This is something you cannot fake or conceal. It is like lying to yourself or your God. Not only does lying not work, but it does the opposite. The lie adds more guilty feelings.
Remorse/I’m Sorry does not apply to false negative thoughts. This is because you should not feel sorry for something that does not exist. This is slightly different from religious teachings that suggest improper thoughts are sinful. On the other hand, if you have repeated abnormal nasty thoughts on the same subject, it might be a red flag that you have subconscious guilt that needs to be addressed.
Being specific with the acknowledgment of responsibilities discussed in section 2 (a) makes it easier to implement the Remorseful or I’m Sorry step. There are several ways to apply this step.
(1) Apologize and Request Forgiveness. This method requires you to apologize for every wrongful action/inaction you did, each harm caused by you, and request forgiveness from the person wronged for each action and harm. This requires an apology only for wrongful action/inaction and harm caused by your actions/inactions. You do not apologize for actions/inactions that are not wrongful, nor do you apologize for damages or injuries that you did not cause.
This Remorse step is only applicable to that guilt inside you. What and how your friends or other protected class members feel is irrelevant. Those people may be operating under their false negative thoughts.
However, there may be portions of the facts or emotions that apply and some that do not apply. In the example where a person outbid their friend on a home, there may be damages that were not applicable. For instance, if the friend could not qualify to buy the house, there is no need to apologize for that element of damage. But there is an obligation to apologize for the dishonesty, untrustworthiness, breach of confidence, etc.
The victim does not have to forgive you, although that would help you to reduce your guilt. But you should request their forgiveness. If you do not ask forgiveness, it might be viewed by your Negative Thoughts Department as a sign of weakness, which might trigger its own guilt.
Next, you must listen. The victim may identify many other actions you forgot or did not know about. You must listen with an open mind and resist the temptation to justify or defend yourself.
Ask for forgiveness using direct, unambiguous words, such as, Will you forgive me for each of the actions and the damages you caused? Do not temper your apology with defensive words such as “based on my point of view” or “what I thought I was doing,” etc. This is not the same as correcting a misunderstanding or mistake that a friend may believe is true. This section deals with guilt inside you. If you apologize for something that did not occur, it may be interpreted as a phony apology.
(2) Confession. This process has its roots in most religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. However, some believe that confession must be to God and not mortal man. The Catholic Church extended confession to be performed at least once a month and preferably more often.
There are small studies that provide the support that full confessions do reduce guilt and provide a pathway to psychological freedom. [Milton W. Horowitz, Psychology of Confession, Vol 47, Issue 2, J. Crim. L. Criminology pgs. 197-205 (1956)]
There is universal medical support that holding-in stress, such as guilt, is unhealthy.
3. Self-Forgiveness for Guilt Triggered by Unknown Causes.
This one is the worst and most pathetic of all the guilt feelings. It thrives on a terrible situation by blaming you. If someone gets sick or god forbids dying, there is a natural tendency to try and understand two basic things. Why did it happen, and What caused it? Often the real, honest, and truthful answer to both questions is “NO ONE KNOWS IT JUST HAPPENED.” That’s where the false negative thoughts department in your mind tries to pull a fast one. It conjures up an answer – It was because of your bad actions.
Why does your brain do this? Because this is when you are the most vulnerable.
In millions of situations, the circumstances fall into the “no one knows. It just happens” category. For example, have you ever thought about the Universe never stopping? It continues forever and ever and ever and ever. Our minds try to make sense of things. Something that never ends is hard to understand. But the real, honest, and truthful answer to the universe going on forever is that “no one knows it just does.” The universe example is provided because it carries no emotions.
Here is another example. Quantum mechanics provides that mass can be in two places at the same time or no place or pop up anywhere. That makes no sense in our minds. But the real, honest, and truthful answer is that “no one knows. It just happens.”
Because no one knows, the false negative thoughts department pulls out standard form emotions memo. It says, “you did it because you were bad.” After all, if you cannot prove something, then the opposite is also true–no one can disprove it either.
For example, if your child gets very sick or even dies, the doctors do not know why it happened to your child. It is almost universal that your mind will try and blame you. Did you take your child to a fast-food restaurant too many times? Did you let your child go to school with other children who might be sick? It does not matter what happened or how silly the connection is. It’s always going to be you and your actions.
How can you avoid feeling guilty in these emotional circumstances? You can’t. And no one knows how to stop it. Why? Because those guilt feelings are inside your head, you cannot deny how you feel.
This does not mean you can’t reduce your guilt. The first thing you should try is to forgive yourself. This is not the same as forgiving yourself for actions or inactions that you did not do. It would help if you never did that. It would likely exacerbate your problems. It is what your false negative thoughts department in your brain wants you to do.
Then, what is it that you’re forgiving? It is not what you think. It is forgiving yourself for BELIEVING a false negative thought. That means you must acknowledge that you fell for a false negative thought. You must say out loud while you’re alone, “I acknowledge that I thought I had a role in my child’s sickness, and that thought was false.” You list all the symptoms this thought caused you, such as depression, blaming others, etc. Each symptom must be identified and connected to a false thought, and you must forgive yourself for thinking you had some responsibility.
Forgiving yourself for giving into a false negative thought is not easy. It takes practice, practice, and more practice. How do you practice this forgiveness? Start with something that does not carry an emotional element. Let’s say John Doe was disclosed in the news media as being admitted to the hospital for colorectal cancer. You do not know John, and therefore there are few emotions involved. Say to yourself, “I did not cause John’s cancer,” and mean it. Of course, this will be easy since it was not a false negative thought in your mind. So, you will need to make it more personal. Think of something terrible you did that day before you heard the news, such as yelling at your pet for a potty mistake. Then say, “I did not cause John’s cancer because I yelled at my dog.” Although that is more difficult, it is still easy to say and mean it. Kick it up a notch. Think of something you did to someone else that you knew was wrong, and you truly felt bad. Say, “God is not punishing me for my conduct by giving John cancer.” This will be easy, so keep narrowing it down to make it more personal. Perhaps pick a friend who had a mishap, and you had a negative thought about the friend. This one is getting more difficult. Do this again, narrowing it down to make it more personal and emotional. Do this until you realize how dangerous the false negative thought department can be.
These exercises will help reduce the amount of guilt. Forgiveness is extremely powerful and is rarely taught in our schools. On the other hand, forgiveness is discussed by all mainstream religions. If you are hurting, seek help from those to teach forgiveness.
There are many other ways to reduce guilt. All of the Joys will help minimize guilt. For example, pets effectively reduce guilt by adding unconditional love to your life.
E. Reducing Guilt by Forgetting.
This usually does not work for full-blown phobias. It also carries the burden that the Negative Thoughts Department may tell you that trying to forget means you are weak and unworthy. This can cause additional guilt.
But forgetting IS a valid method for reducing guilt. This may include Forgetting by Passage of Time, Forgetting by Ritual Release Techniques, and Forgetting by Hypnosis.
1. Forgetting by Passage of Time. Every person forgets. Studies have shown that 50 percent of the minor unimportant facts are forgotten in 1 hour and 70% are forgotten in 24 hours. Emotional matters take much longer. About 50 percent of people are able to get over a romantic encounter after 5 weeks. But 10 percent have significant feelings after 5 months.
For the less emotional guilt triggers, this is a good process. Just wait it out. For the more emotional or more memorable encounters other methods discussed in paragraphs C and D may be more effective.
2. Forgetting by using the Ritual Release Technique. This is where a particular memory is converted into a mental snapshot in your mind. Then the mental snapshot is consciously set on fire or destroyed. Quorvita was unable to locate any credible scientific studies that support or reject this technique.
3. Forgetting by using drugs. This is not recommended. If this treatment is used, it must be under close supervision by qualified medical doctors. There have been reports of delayed neurotic episodes years later with certain drugs.
4. Forgetting by using Hypnosis. Hypnosis has been used repeatedly to help people remember traumatic events that were being suppressed. It suggests that the opposite might be true, i.e., it can be used to help people forget. That issue was addressed in studies published in a 2008 article in Scientific American. The results were mixed but show that hypnosis can be used to influence brain activity. Other studies find that it may be more effective on short term memories but not so much on long term memories.
Quorvita could not locate any scientific studies that investigates the next necessary link. That is, whether forgetting an event using hypnosis also reduces guilt associated with that event.
F. PRACTICE EXERCISES.
Easy Exercise 1. Marvin is driving his family to church. He tries to separate his young daughter and son from arguing in the back seat and inadvertently cuts off another driver. The driver honks his horn and flashes a stern look. Marvin feels guilty for not paying attention to the road. Which of the following answers is best for this situation?
Potential Answers to Exercise 1.
(a) Pull the other driver over and apologize;
(b) Do nothing because the other driver was not within the protected class;
(c) When he gets home, he lists everything he did wrong and all of the damages it caused to the other driver;
(d) Forget it;
(e) Picture the driver’s car in your mind, then set it on fire, or
(f) Ignore it because it is a False Negative Thought.
The best answer is (d). Forget it. This kind of incident will be forgotten in a few hours. Taking this incident to a higher level will cement the negative encounter in your memory.
Answer (a) might be dangerous. Chasing down the other driver to apologize may scare the other driver and cause an accident. Answer (b) does not apply because the other driver is within the protected class determined by local driving laws. Answer (c) implies that the father has anger problems and may need to address those issues. Answer (e) is more related to more significant guilt issues. Answer (f) is not applicable since this is an actual incident and not one made up in the father’s mind.
The best answer is (d). Forget it. This kind of incident will be forgotten in a few hours. Taking this incident to a higher level will cement the negative encounter in your memory.
Answer (a) might be dangerous. Chasing down the other driver to apologize may scare the other driver and cause an accident. Answer (b) does not apply because the other driver is within the protected class determined by local driving laws. Answer (c) implies that the father has some anger problems and may need to address those issues. Answer (e) is more related to more significant guilt issues. Answer (f) is not applicable since this is an actual incident and not one made up in the father’s mind.
Easy Exercise 2. Helen is constantly on social media. She posts a statement that her friend Sally told her that she will have her eyebrows darkened with a tattoo. Sally is upset that others will know she’s getting a tattoo. She immediately blocks Helen’s access to her posts and refuses to return her texts. Helen regrets what she did. What should Helen do? If there are multiple answers, put them in the preferred order.
Potential Answers to Exercise 2.
(a) Helen should call Sally and tell her that she’s sorry and ask what she can do to correct things between them;
(b) She should do nothing since it did not cause any damage to Sally;
(c) Helen should list what she did wrong and how it may have hurt Sally. Then she should apologize to Sally for her actions and ask for forgiveness;
(d) She should seek out the help of a hypnotist;
(e) She should stop or reduce using social media;
(f) She should go out and walk in the fresh air; and
(g) Tell Sally she is partially at fault for not stating that their conversation should be confidential.
The best answer is (a), which should be the first thing to do. Another answer is (c) because it is good practice when a considerable guilt issue arises. Helen is constantly on social media indicates that she needs to work on her self-esteem. That suggests that the answer (e) is a good solution for other reasons. Answer (f) is always a good thing to do regardless of guilt issues.
Answer (b) is correct for any monetary damages because there is no causation. But it is incorrect relative to her breach of confidence to Sally and the embarrassment it caused. Answer (d) is not applicable as hypnosis is unproven regarding guilt. It might be grounds for the False Negative Thoughts Department to send the messages, “See, I told you there’s something wrong with you.” Answer (g) indicates an attempt to justify Helen’s actions. Confidence is implied in all sensitive conversations. It will likely increase the amount of Helen’s guilt by suggesting a breach of trust is okay between friends.
Moderately Difficult Exercises.
Moderate Exercise 1. Wilma is a 35-year-old mother in a happy marriage. She went shopping with her best friend, Teresa, at an expensive clothing store. Teresa is wealthy and has a B-type personality. Wilma had an eye for color coordination. Teresa tried on various dresses and voiced her opinion that they looked good on her. Wilma would smile but say nothing. But, inside, Wilma would cringe because the colors did not go well with Teresa’s hair and skin tones. Wilma felt guilty that she was being dishonest in her answers. How do you reduce Wilma’s guilt?
Potential Answers to Moderate Exercise 1.
(a) Wilma should apologize to Teresa for violating her trust and friendship by not telling Teresa how she felt, and she should ask for forgiveness;
(b) Wilma should not apologize because her guilt was based on a false negative thought.
(c) Wilma should seek help from a professional psychologist;
(d) She should seek out the help of a hypnotist for help;
(e) Wilma should analyze her feelings of guilt and identify her feelings as a false negative thought. She should wait until she is alone and then smile and do a little dance as a reward for spotting a false negative thought.
(f) Wilma should realize that Teresa was a Type B Personality and that friends should be kind but honest in their answers to questions.
(g) Wilma should forget the incident as it was too small to be of concern.
The best answers are (e), (b), and (f). Answer (e) is the best answer. Spotting a false negative thought is important and celebrating the discovery of those thoughts is fantastic. It will help reduce the guilt that may (will) arise from false negative thoughts. Answer (b) is correct because you do not apologize for false negative thoughts. Wilma did not make a false statement. On the other hand, the smile might qualify as tacit approval. That is the reason this answer is in second place. Answer (f) is a good answer. Most Type B personalities want their friends to be honest with tough questions. However, since there is no indication that Wilma knew that Teresa was a Type B Personality, this rates the answer as number three.
Answer (a) is incorrect since one does not have to apologize for false negative thoughts. It might raise the question in Teresa’s mind that there might be something deeper behind the apology. Answers (c) and (d) do not apply without knowing more facts. If Wilma goes home and cries for hours, it may suggest a significant problem that might approach a phobia, which would require professional help. Answer (g) might be an appropriate response if the guilt is minor or passing. However, the fact that she experienced guilt indicates Wilma thought the incident was improper.
Hard and Difficult Exercises.
Hard Exercise 1. An ambulance arrives at a real automobile accident scene involving multiple high school students. Paul, an EMT, is unable to revive one of the students. He feels guilty, believing that he did not stop the bleeding in time. That night he had nightmares of the incident. What answer appears to be the best solution for Paul?
Potential Answers to Hard Exercise 1.
(a) Paul should do nothing since his guilt is due to a False Negative Thought;
(b) He should contact a professional and seek advice as soon as possible.
(c) He should write down everything he could have done differently and contact the parents to apologize.
(d) He should go out and walk in the fresh air;
(e) He should block out everything he can about the accident from his mind, or
(f) He should get drunk to relieve his emotional pain.
This is an enormously emotional and tragic event. The best answer is (b) he should seek professional help as soon as possible. Answer (d) is appropriate for all kinds of reasons, but it is not a great solution in reducing guilt.
Answer (a) is inappropriate because False Negative Thoughts can cause unbearable guilt. Although the accident is an actual event, the guilt feelings that Paul had about not doing everything he could, is a classic False Negative Thought. Answer (c) is not appropriate. Writing down everything he saw and did is probably one of his job requirements. Writing down everything he thinks he could have done differently would be inappropriate. Apologizing to the parents for not doing enough to save their child’s life is apologizing for a false negative thought. That would likely be contrary to his job duties and may result in him being fired.
Answer (e) will not be successful without extensive professional help. Finally, answer (f) does not address the problem and may aggravate the situation.
Hard Exercise 2. George had a falling out with his mother, Diane, over marrying his high school drop-out and drug-using girlfriend, Marla. They had a child, William, who was a straight A student. Marla was imprisoned for selling drugs, resulting in a divorce. George had not talked to his mother for 20 years and received notice that she was on her death bed. He loved his mother but could not forgive her for not accepting Marla into the family. He felt it caused Marla to sell drugs and broke up their marriage. George feels guilty that he has kept William away from his grandmother. What should George Do?
Potential Answers to Hard Exercise 2.
(a) George should contact a professional and seek advice as soon as possible.
(b) George should list all of the reasons why keeping William away from Diane was wrong, list all of the damages and hurt that it caused, prepare an apology, and meet with Diane as soon as possible and ask for her forgiveness;
(c) He should meet with Diane and tell her he’s sorry. He should then ask what he can do to correct things between them;
(d) He should ignore Dianne and go on with his life.
(e) He should agree to meet with Dianne as soon as possible provided she apologies to Marla;
(f) He should take whatever steps to understand why he married Marla and became so angry with his mother for not approving the marriage.
The best answer is (a) followed by (b) and then (f). All of these steps should be undertaken for multiple reasons. When Diane dies, George will likely suffer major psychological problems. It may be severe if he does not release his anger and guilt. He needs to understand why he could not understand his mother’s point of view.
The facts given in the example are clear Diane loved George and wanted him to be happy. That is obvious. George’s extreme action relative to William does not make sense. A more profound problem likely existed with his mother before Marla. That would be a good reason to bring in a professional. George also needs to understand why he married Marla. There appear to be much more severe underlying problems that likely exist. A professional would help discover these underlying problems and work on real solutions.
Answer (c) is inappropriate since the emotions and damages are too great to be the subject of a negotiated forgiveness. As suggested by Answer (d), ignoring the problem is inappropriate. Answer (e) is not appropriate under the facts given in the example.