We all know that feeling of guilt, when you start to feel guilty for being happy. I have found myself thinking “I shouldn’t be this happy” or “Why am I so lucky?” It’s a syndrome many people are familiar with. But what if there was a cure? What if it wasn’t your fault?
Studies show that millennials are more prone to the Guilt Pandemic than other generations. It is because we grow up in an environment filled with messages about how much better everything else could be and how wrong it feels to enjoy ourselves while others suffer. We’re constantly reminded of our privilege, told not to take anything for granted, and made aware of every single thing that should make us feel bad instead of focusing on what we have.
Some guilt is good, it keeps us functioning as active members of society, it acts as a driving force to help us make better choices. You feel guilty for letting your friends down so you don’t. A charity advert with a starving child could make you feel guilty if you haven’t donated to charity in a while. This level of guilt is a normal and healthy response.
Increasingly however, we are experiencing disproportionate amounts of guilt for things we have no control over. We can find ourselves feeling guilty for the books and music we loved growing up, the disgraced stars we looked up to – even though we had no way of knowing what they were doing behind closed doors. Feelings of guilt have been found in people because they were born into a white, middle class family. Guilt because they are men. Guilt because someone else treated them differently. Guilt over the environment.
Healthy guilt, that is directly linked to our actions causes us to change our behaviour and do better next time. This unhealthy guilt mentioned above, cannot be mitigated in the same way, I can’t do anything about being a white, cis gendered female for example. This kind of guilt can manifest itself in your life. It can grow and cause anxiety and depression. It can hold you back subconsciously from getting a better job or buying something you have worked hard for and becomes a toxic force.
We are not our ancestors. I did not take part in slavery, I was not a supporter of the crusades, I did not sexually abuse someone just because I liked a book where, hundreds of years after the authors death, I found out he probably did and I don’t need to feel guilt or shame because of it.
I recycle, I donate to charity, I use a green energy provider and walk wherever possible.
I treat people equally and fairly, I abide by not only the laws of the land I reside in, but also my own and society’s code of ethics and I believe that most people who feel this unrealistic, exacerbated guilt do too (I believe this of most people to be honest, regardless of how guilty they feel). I feel shame when I think about the atrocities humanity has committed before and during my time, but it was not in my name, it was not me and I do not feel guilt and you don’t have to either.
Let’s face it, we all feel guilty from time to time. What type do you experience most often? And why? We would love your feedback on this topic!