By Amber Johnson, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Guilt is an emotion that can guide the decisions of many people. Guilt can be an appropriate feeling at times. It can be a way of balancing internal uneasiness when making decisions regarding interpersonal relationships. For example, one may feel uneasiness when saying something hurtful to another person. Guilt can enhance interpersonal relationships by causing people to express sympathy, apologize for hurtful behavior, and reflect on individual life decisions in order to enhance life in the future.
Guilt can also be used to manipulate others, reinforce control, and create a general form of emotional distress. In interpersonal violence situations, guilt is always used as a way to keep the victim immobilized. If the victim is made to feel guilty by an abuser about a variety of issues and personal decisions the victim has made in their lives, often they will feel stuck because the empowerment to make a decision has been snatched away by guilt. Some of the common triggers for guilt which are often used as tools of manipulation are:
· Not living up to the standards of your family.
· Thinking about yourself
· Saying “no”.
Placing guilt on someone for the purpose of control does not enhance relationships or build moral value among individuals. It is ok to say no, to put yourself first, and to live up to your own expectations. Sometimes guilt can still be present after survivors have left an abusive situation. However, dealing with guilt can be a positive experience. Releasing guilt can give a sense of relief. As a survivor, releasing remnants of guilt allows you to accept the things you cannot change and focus on the positive aspects of the future.
Addressing guilt also assists with building confidence among survivors. Guilt can cause survivors to second guess their life decisions. Fortunately when releasing guilt, survivors can move forward and reduce their fear of making bad decisions. The process of releasing guilt also allows you to focus on yourself. It is an act of self-love in which survivors can focus on the love that they have for themselves and realize that they are survivors. Releasing guilt can make you feel emotionally lighter, physically healthier, and allow survivors to confidently move forward to lead impactful and positive lives. Remember that guilt from an abusive relationship is something that happened to you not by you.
Amber Johnson is a doctoral student in the Department of Public Health Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Amber’s current interest focuses on the health consequences of shame endured by women on a systemic level, particularly among racial/ethnic minority women. She is interested in Community-Based Participatory Research and establishing effective partnerships with community members. She also seeks to find ways to lessen the differential power of researchers and community members. She will be on track to finish her PhD in May 2016.