In yesterday's post, I wrote about "legitimate" guilt - distress we experience when we have done something that is unethical, immoral, illegal or causes harm to another. But I also threw in "illegitimate" guilt at the end and framed that as "anxiety". Let's dive into that one today!
You know that distressed feeling you get when what you say or do doesn't match what you feel is expected of you? What you feel you "should" say or do? That feeling of knowing that people will judge you as not being a "nice" or "good" or "kind" person can sometimes feel like "guilt", but in truth, the distress that happens when you are concerned with, "What will people think?" is a form of anxiety.
You see, if you're basing your choice on what you do around the answer to "what will people think?", instead of whether or not it's "the right thing to do", you will experience anxiety.
If you're doing or saying something based on moral, ethical, or legal grounds, or with an interest in avoiding harm coming to someone, you have no reason to feel guilt. AND, even if you make decisions about what you do with the highest moral, ethical, and legal considerations with a priority on "doing no harm", you won't be able to please everyone. So if you're interested in having no one think ill of you, you will feel anxious, because you can NEVER please everyone.
You know the story of the man, the boy and the donkey? The moral of the story is that you can't please everyone, so stop trying! I would add (if I could re-write the story somewhat) to focus, instead, on doing your best to be ethical, moral and endeavour to do no harm to others.
Sometimes our children come to us with just such dilemmas - they want (or don't want) to do something but feel they have to in order to please others. If they go against their better judgement and do what is expected of them, they betray themselves and possibly their higher values; if they don't do as others wish, they feel anxious about the pending disapproval of others.
What decisions have you made in your life based on "What will people think?" If you have not done what you "should" to avoid disapproval, what have you felt? Legitimate guilt? Or anxiety?
What did you need in those moments? How about: A listening ear? Confirmation that it's a tough place to be in? And help to make the choice based on your higher values? That may be what your kids need in those moments too.