Sunday, October 1, 2017

How to Deal with Guilty Conscience

GUILTY CONSCIENCE
Do You Have a “Guilty Conscience”…?
How to Deal with Guilty Conscience
By
VIKRAM KARVE

“Guilty Conscience” is the opposite of “Resentment”.

“Resentment” is a sense of bitterness because of “perceived injustice”.

You experience “resentment” against a person – if you feel that he/she has done “injustice” to you.

“Guilty Conscience” is a feeling of remorse experienced by you – if you feel that you have done “injustice” to someone.

Let me try to illustrate by a simple example.

Suppose a married man has an “extra-marital affair” – a “one-night stand” with a female colleague in his office.

The cheater husband is caught red-handed by his wife.

The wife will feel “resentment” towards the husband for cheating on her.

The husband may have a “guilty conscience” for cheating his wife.

If you feel wronged by someone – you feel a sense of “resentment”.

If you feel that you have wronged someone – you have a “guilty conscience”.

In a nutshell:

If someone does a wrong to you – you feel a sense of resentment 

but 

If you do a wrong to someone – you experience a feeling of guilty conscience 

Both “resentment” and “guilty conscience” are attributable to your “perception” – and so – they exist in your mind’s eye – in your imagination.

In generic terms – both “resentment” and “guilty-conscience” can be directed against any entity – animate and inanimate.

For example – you can feel resentment or have a guilty conscience towards an organization – like – the organization where you work – or the institution where you study – or the “government” – or – you may feel resentment or guilty conscience towards a “group” or “system”.

However – to keep it simple – I will discuss “guilty conscience” in the context of personal relationships.


GUILTY CONSCIENCE

Both “resentment” and “guilty conscience” are detrimental to your “inner peace”.

Living with “resentment” can make you bitter.

Similarly – living with a “guilty conscience” can affect your emotional health.

(I have discussed “How to Deal with Resentment” in the preceding blog post – and now – I will discuss “How to Deal with Guilty Conscience”)


HOW TO DEAL WITH GUILTY CONSIENCE

In most cases – you may have a “guilty conscience” towards someone if you feel that you have done some “injustice” to him/her in the past – or – if you are doing some wrong to that person in the present – or - in rare cases – you may feel a “guilty conscience” because you are going to do some “injustice” to a person in the future.


“FUTURISTIC” GUILTY CONSCIENCE

In the 3rd case – if your “guilty conscience” is due to some perceived “wrong” you are going to commit in the future – you have two options:

OPTION 1

You can introspect – and – you can try to “rationalize” and “justify” your course of action.

For example – you can “convince” yourself that it is a part of your “duty” – or – the action is for the “greater good”.

As I said earlier – the “guilt” exists is in your mind – and – if you can “alleviate” your “guilt” – this will act as a “salve” to assuage your “guilty conscience”. 

OPTION 2

If you cannot “rationalize” your futuristic action to yourself – the best option is to reconsider your course of action – so that you can avoid doing the “wrong” which you know is going to give you a “guilty conscience”.

Let is discuss some “illustrative examples”.

At Work:

As a Human Resource (HR) Executive – suppose you are asked to make “false promises” to new recruits about career prospects during the placement process – or give “false assurances” to employees regarding their demands during negotiations – you can try and “rationalize” your actions to yourself – that you are doing this to “save your own job” – or – for the “greater good” of the organization and society.

In Personal Life:

During Pre-Matrimonial “Dating” – you “hype” yourself – you hide “facts” from your prospective wife/husband – you conceal your “peccadillos” and “frailties” – you do all this just to “impress” your matrimonial “date” and persuade them into marriage.

Can you “rationalize” the pretense on the pretext that you are doing all this just to achieve your “goal” of getting married to the person…?

Or – as a parent of a groom/bride – will you “justify” a bit of “mendacity” – by “rationalizing” to yourself – that you are doing it for the “greater good” of your family…?

If you are able to “rationalize” your “wrong” actions to yourself – well and good – otherwise –you will suffer from a “guilty conscience” – in which case – it is better to avoid these actions.

Politicians are experts in “rationalizing” their “wrongs” – and maybe – that is why politicians develop a “thick skin” and they never suffer from a “guilty conscience”.


“PRESENT” GUILTY CONSCIENCE

In the 2nd case – where you feel that your present actions – something you are doing right now – this is going to cause “injustice” to someone – you can stop and correct your actions.

If you have seen the movie Dr. Zhivago – you may remember the scene where Yuri (Dr. Zhivago) and Lara (the Nurse) are together for the last time – and are going to go back to their respective homes since the war is over.

While serving in the army on the battlefront during wartime – Dr. Yuri Zhivago (who is married) falls in love with Lara (a political activist’s wife) who helps Dr. Zhivago as his nurse.

Both Yuri and Lara are married – but soon – their intimacy at work develops into deep love – and – on their last night together – they feel immense attraction towards each other.

Yuri cannot control his passion – and he wants to make love to Lara.

Even Lara feels immense attraction towards Yuri – but she controls herself on the spur of the moment – Lara stops Yuri – and she says to Yuri:

“Let’s not do anything that we will be ashamed of – Let’s not do anything that we will have to lie about…”

And – they control themselves.

(I don’t remember the exact dialogue – but – the gist of the dialogue is that Lara tells Yuri that they must not “cross the line” and do something that will give them a “guilty conscience”)

So – in the present moment – if an “alarm bell” rings in your mind that your actions may lead to a “guilty conscience” – if possible – it is best to stop immediately and correct yourself.

If it is not possible to stop – at least pause for a moment and “rationalize” your present actions to yourself – so that your conscience becomes clear.

Trying to “rationalize” your “wrong” actions may put you in an “ethical dilemma”

If you can resolve your “ethical dilemma” by “situational ethics” – it is fine – otherwise – this may cause you internal stress.

So – if you cannot convince yourself that your actions are justified – it is best to avoid actions which give you qualms of conscience.

But – if you have to do something that you feel causes “injustice” to someone – try to “rationalize” – so that you don’t have a “guilty conscience”.

Let me give you an illustrative example.

I recently met an “NRI” classmate – he had migrated to the US more than 40 years ago for higher studies and he had permanently settled down in USA and acquired American Citizenship.

He said that his middle-class parents had “sacrificed” a lot trying to give him the best of education.

He told me that he had tried to convince his parents to relocate to America to live with him – but his parents had preferred to stay on in their home in India.

After the death of his father – his mother lived alone in their home.

However – she had developed dementia – due to which she could not live alone.

It was not possible for my classmate to take his mother to the US because of her state of health due to advanced age.

So – my classmate had come from the US to shift his mother into an “old age home” with assisted living facility.

His mother was most unhappy to leave her own home and go to the old age home.

However – my classmate had no choice but to admit his mother into to old age home.

He was feeling terrible guilty about it – and said to me:

“My mother looked after me so lovingly – and now – I have put her in an old age home where she is miserable…”

“There is no use having a “guilty conscience”…” I said to him.

“What do you mean…? How can I not have a “guilty conscience”…?” he said to me.

“Can you take your mother with you to America…?” I asked him.

“No…” he said, “her “Green Card” expired long back since she stopped visiting me in America after she crossed 80 due to her health…”

“So – you can’t take your old mother to America – but – can you relocate here to India to look after your mother…?” I asked him.

“How is that possible…? My family is there – and – I am still “working” – I also have my businesses to run and investments to look after – there – you don’t permanently “retire” in your 50’s and sit at home doing nothing – like you are doing…” he said.

“You can’t take your mother with you to the US. You can’t relocate to India to look after her. So – the only option you have is to put your mother in the old age home…?”

“Yes…” he said.

“Then – what are you feeling “guilty” about…? Why do you have a “guilty conscience” when you can do nothing about it…” I said.

Yes – Dear Reader – that is the truth.

Why have a “guilty conscience” about something about which you can do nothing…?

What is the point of having a “guilty conscience” about things beyond your control…?

There is no point in having a “guilty conscience” about reality.

Also – think twice before destabilizing your organized life and disturbing your equilibrium by taking disorganizing actions just to assuage your “guilty conscience”.

Instead of wallowing in mental misery due to “guilty conscience” – sometimes – it is better to be “hard-hearted” and “insensitive” (like “thick-skinned” politicians) – to get rid of your “guilty conscience” – and put the matter out of your mind.

The “out of sight” = “out of mind” dictum may be effective in mitigating “guilty conscience” in some cases.

Dear Reader – each person is different – some are more sensitive than others – and – you have to find what works best for you – rationalizing – forgetting ­ and moving on.

Sometimes – it is best to perform your actions – good or bad – and never think of them again – what is done is done.

Yes – today – “what is done is done” – will soon become a thing of the “past”.


“PAST” GUILTY CONSCIENCE

You may feel that you have “wronged” someone in the past – you realize that you have done “injustice” to that person – you regret your past actions – and this feeling of remorse creates a “guilty conscience” inside you.

In order to exorcise your “guilty conscience” for past deeds – the best thing to do – if possible – is to correct the “wrong” – but – if that is not possible – the next best thing is to do – is to own up your “mistake” to the “wronged” person and apologize to them.

Well – if the “wronged” person has so much “resentment” against you that he doesn’t accept your apology – you have no choice but to forget about it and move on.

In cases where there is nothing you can do about it – there is no need to keep having a “guilty conscience” about your past deeds.  


HAVE A “CLEAR” CONSCIENCE

A “guilty conscience” causes “emotional disharmony” and “internal stress” – and disturbs your “internal peace”.

If you want to live a harmonious stress-free life – it is best to have a “clear conscience”.

A clear conscience will give you inner peace, good health and sound sleep. 

There is a Russian Saying:

“A Clear Conscience is the Softest Pillow…”

Dear Reader:

If you want to be in harmony with yourself – never live with a “guilty conscience” – either – you can try to “rationalize” your “wrong” actions and “clear” your conscience – but – if cannot do so – it is best to avoid those actions that give you a “guilty conscience”.

Do you agree…? 

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
1. These are my personal views. They may or may not work for everyone. Please exercise your own due diligence in your life. 
2. It is easy to preach, but difficult to practice what you preach. I try my best to practice what I preach (and preach what I practice) to the extent feasible.
3. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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