Of all the emotions that the human spirit have had to harbour over time, it is perhaps the inkling of guilt that seeks to most disrupt our perception of life. In being widely viewed as a negative emotion that while leads to other major conflicts of the mind, most notably depression, still remains as inevitable a functioning reality of man. Sure there exists other feelings equally unsettling that the human psyche has to bear the burden of. Grief for instance can well lead you to the depths of despair, and so can anger that tends to be more vile an assertion of the weakness that stems innately from our nature as vulnerable souls. Guilt however is more than just that. In being a sum of the most perilous bouts of negativity that engulf us from time to time, guilt can come across as the most destructive of forces that has us questioning our very nature of existence.
Guilt stems generally from regret and reeks of a helplessness so potent that leaves the soul drained and doomed. Worse still, guilt might feel condescending an emotion to our own selves, looking down upon ourselves with so pitying a glance that can lead us to be surprisingly volatile despite having lost all that strength to conjure up such intense experiences that can destroy every perception we hold. A heady mix of unstable emotions that trigger every spectrum of your awareness driving you to a gloom that seeks to sink you down even as you come across as calmingly composed thereby defying the advances of anyone who might have lent an empathic solace to you, guilt is but a proclivity for self destruction in its understanding. With a range of such emotions like shame and frustration and humiliation and regret manifesting as intensely as they can, guilt strives to strike your soul in all its multifaceted weighings, weighing you down therefore with a vengeance that stems as a result of your own actions. In its massive domain of inflicting you therefore with all the suffering because well, you deserve so, guilt has a rather overwhelming bearing on even your perception of the self and perhaps what it is even worth in all its realisation.
In such negative connotations of it therefore, it becomes impossible for us to believe that guilt can have positive influences on us as well. Of course, what ray of hope do you expect to derive out of a feeling that only wrings the life out of you and makes you chastise yourself as a wretched soul responsible for all the wrongs? But much like everything that governs the purview of the very nature of existence, guilt also tends to be two sided an entity in action. It indeed is difficult to view something as pulvarising as guilt as being capable of anything else than driving us to despondence with its interlying complexity of such feelings as regret and remorse than only seek to exaggerate the grevity of what we are guilty of doing. Yet, in spite of its rather demeaning play on what governs the righteousness or otherwise of our actions, guilt can have rather surprising effects in yielding the good out of us. In fact view guilt without any prejudice whatsoever and it’s not tough to decipher that this indeed is an emotion that reflects the good in us. As something stemming from a realisation of us being in the wrong and that which therefore presents us as a fair case of being good enough an individual at heart, we need to be according guilt more esteem than what it seats in.
Why we seek to laud guilt here is because this emotion that we forever interpret as so negative is surprisingly adaptive. Adaptive not in its easy moulding into being encompassing of a whole range of associated emotion but in helping us be aware of the inner reaches of our selves. Because it is improbable that even a tiny speck of guilt can emerge from the darkest confines of a being that derides every notion of harbouring a conscience. It is this conscience upon which guilt plays and that which in fact accelerates it that lends this one amongst the emotions supposedly regarded as negative greater ‘validity’ in enabling us to be more human. Guilt also is hard to encounter- those pricks of conscience now and then might well be a manifestation of guilt but till the time it isn’t a steady flow of the remorse feels that we experience, guilt does not take on its greater significance. In arousing our conscience to the extent that guilt can sometimes lead to such profound courses of action as stemming from virtues like compassion and empathy, this is one of those rare emotions that do us good through an awareness that we rarely have of ourselves.
Of course as regards with everything else, the nature of guilt too is individualistic. Which means that even though the feeling experienced is empirical as far as soulful existences are concerned, the intensity with which it comes across is bound to be varied for all. No wonder then there are some who drown in guilt to the extent that they let it eat them away. For others however, guilt happens in transient phases, fleeting and returning but impacting nevertheless their dignity as a human so that they evolve to be better perceptive of what their actions might bear in terms of consequences.
Guilt also helps in making us more accountable and therefore more responsible of ourselves. To that effect therefore, guilt can well be a coping mechanism. In allowing us to accept the wrong in us and thereby purge ourselves of such identities that stop us from being the best version of ourselves, guilt can be surprisingly cathartic. That however does not take anything away from the hollowness we tend to experience when the guilt sets in bereft of its accompanying significance. In having us sink deeper into the abyss of a restlessness that feels so much like the end of the world as we wallow in deep misery and repentance, ashamed of our doings while at the same time feeling humiliated in how we might have come across to the world, guilt can be indeed disturbing. It also does not help that guilt strikes from within with a vehemence that leaves us shattered to the core but manifesting perhaps also in an exterior that becomes all the more vulnerable. With guilt dictating the thoughts in your mind, it becomes easy for even the mildest of external forces to prick you in a manner that questions your essence and makes you therefore see no meaning in your worth. From feeding your guilty being further doses of self retribution to having you contemplate your right to existence with such wrongs credited to you, it is no surprise that the guilt of one often becomes the reason for the guilt of someone else.
And despite the stark awareness of guilt being redolent in the experiences of only the wrongs you do, it resides also as much in what you don’t do. Be it unfulfilled expectations or failed aspirations or incapable stemmings, guilt is fairly common to all even when it is exclusive to none. By nature therefore, guilt is universal. And paradoxical as well. Guilt makes its presence felt even in your desire for happiness when you consider yourself to have wronged so much that you begin to question whether you indeed have any right to feel the positivity. Guilt lurks behind a smile as much as it is evident in your discomfort, penetrating every inch of your being till the time everything you do has you questioning your morals. This aspect of guilt interfering in every aspect of your existence so much that you constantly indulge in inflicting punishments on yourself to make up to that effect is what is explored in psychology as The Dobby Effect. In its obvious nomenclature that which takes root from the namesake elf of the Harry Potter series, the manifestation of this effect is one of the closest ways through which you ‘acknowledge’ your residing in guilt. Self punishment perhaps feels like one of the most gratifying means to drive away those recurring bouts of guilt that which routinely interferes with your striving to live a life that does not feel like a burden. In its essence, this Dobby effect is a greater yielding into the guilt we hold ourselves so responsible for that the only way to make up to it, if there indeed is one, seems to be the one where we wrong ourselves as well.
But what we often view as self punishment isn’t always exclusively something that concerns only us. Not just in guilt though, every time we punish or harm ourselves in whatever way for whatever reason, we also are extending a part of the suffering to those who care deeply for us. And yet we continue to do so because we believe that it is only our own existence that we are seeking to ruin as ‘making up’ to the pain we might have caused others. What we do not realise however is that in making up for a guilt stemming from a past experience we are putting ourselves on course for greater guilts to follow. Like this self retribution which pains our loved ones as well through our suffering, making us therefore responsible for their despair as well which again follows in continuing cycles of guilt and self punishment. As vicious a cycle it tends to be much like the other emotions of life that we let engulf us in such potency, guilt therefore leads only to added guilt in most cases. The silver lining however in these clouds of hovering guilt happens to be once again the realisation of our responsibility. In such assertions that this awareness of guilt leads us to by having us more perceptive of how we are embroiling ourselves further in its conflicting embrace, we can in fact drive our way out of it by focussing on our conscience. In any case therefore, for better or for worse, the mechanism of guilt renders us more conscientious than what we generally tend to be. And that is the very efficacious working of guilt that makes it as much an essential human emotion like any other.