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Day 9. The Guilter

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Its Motivations: To make you compliant.

The Fear It's Driven By: If you’re not pleasing people (including me your critic), you’re being selfish and wrong. Don’t make me (the inner critic) look bad. If you get things wrong or don’t do as others want, this could hang over you forever (because they keep reminding you…)

Underlying Beliefs: Other people’s feelings come before yours but its [the inner critic and whoever inspired it] come before theirs - “If I’m not happy, you should not be happy”. It is selfish to put you first. If you don't feel guilty about what you did, you will make the mistake of doing it again.

Look Out For: A parent/caregiver who whether they intended it or not, is partial to a spot of emotional blackmail. Someone who sees you as an extension of them so is not willing to give you an identity and holds you responsible for their well-being. A co-dependent parent who takes little or no responsibility and/or who had ongoing problems (you may have grown up too soon), or partners, friends, or relatives with problems that they put on you. You being concerned about being The Good Girl/Guy.

The Guilter inner critic thinks that the way to get you to do what it wants is to make you think that you’re committing a wrongdoing or that you are in danger of doing so and that if you do not listen, that you will be causing them problems but it’s cloaked as it being a problem for you and this is because you are seen as being responsible for other people’s feelings and behaviour, but most especially theirs. Emotional blackmail is its natural habitat and you may be so used to this noise both inwardly and outwardly that you haven’t even registered that you carry a blackmailer around in your head. It may be as natural as breathing to ignore your own feelings as well as your needs, expectations, desires, ideas and beliefs, because you grapple with a tape that relies on fear, guilt and obligation.

It brings up old sh*t (and will happily hammer you over the head with it), holds on to stuff, bearing a grudge and withholding forgiveness, which triggers shame. It has a whole load of rules that aren’t rules about what a person it wants you to be ‘should’ be doing in order to please them and be worthy. The reason why this stuff is in your tape is that if these feelings and memories are brought up then you are reminded of your ‘place’ and your ‘duties’ so that you don’t deviate.

It wants to keep any past ‘mistakes’ and ‘failures’ (which are no doubt greatly distorted), fresh in your mind so that you won’t make them again.

The messages that you've picked up along the way that form and feed The Guilter highly likely to be influenced by an outer guilter in your life who you may or may not be aware of how unhealthy, no matter how well intended they claim it to be or no matter how much you love them, the relationship is. The message is that you don’t have a right to be happy or a right to be you because whoever inspired it is not happy. If you had to take care of parents/caregivers or your siblings and have tried to carve out your own life but feel guilty, this heavily influences your backing track. You might have your own life but you’re keeping you ‘back there’ by feeling guilty so that you don’t appear disloyal or as if you’re an abandoner.

You may have done something in the past that you felt really bad about, whether the wrongdoing is real (it happened and is an actual wrongdoing) or where you assumed the blame for something and have been punishing you ever since for it, refusing to allow you to move on and grow from it and refusing to acknowledge that growing out of it is the way to make amends.

You may have learned or inferred from people in your childhood that it’s wrong for you to consider your own feelings and you may be a very sensitive, kind person who got into the habit of feeling bad about their good fortune or something good happening in their life if there were other people who you felt were struggling or unhappy. You may have learned to suppress good thoughts and feelings and told yourself various things as a way of managing guilt and now, guilt is your jam.

It wants to control you so that you are compliant and making it happy and as a result, you’re living on a permanent or semi-permanent guilt-trip which yields a pervasive sense of wrongdoing.

You are reflexively guilty or ‘hyper-guilty’, which is incredibly burdensome.

The Guilter inner critic distorts your perception of your rights and responsibilities, so things that are well within your rights and responsibilities are associated with being ‘wrong’ and causing harm, and things that are outside of these are seen as ‘right’ - your associations are mixed up. You might feel very confused at times, especially because like all inner critics, The Guilter loves switching it so no matter what you do, you feel guilty.

Preying on an underlying desire to be needed or pleasing, or an underlying desire to right the wrongs of the past, carrying The Guilter around with you is a recipe for pain with your romantic relationships. No doubt your romantic partners have had ways of dodging their responsibilities but also, you may be quick to question you and to assume when things are not going well, that it’s your fault. You may be an over-apologiser, to the point where you’re near apologising for breathing and may have been with critical and chopping partners who whittle down your self-esteem with their comments or who blame you for their behaviour and their feelings. You might find that you’re very sympathetic to people who have codependency issues, especially around drugs, alcohol, or have very problematic behaviour because you may feel as if they need someone who ‘gets’ them because of course you feel guilty for acknowledging issues, plus, if you get involved in a relationship of this kind then there’s no room for your own needs, feelings etc, as usual.

Basically, watch out for any relationship where the same habits as what you have with this critic have free reign to play out.

At work, you might struggle to be boundaried in the sense of knowing your priorities, time and workload, making it difficult to turn down requests. Feeling guilty makes it difficult to voice concerns, to voice ideas, to ask for a raise, to address issues directly, or to name inappropriate behaviour from a coworker or boss. When you want to leave, you’ll feel guilty, either about people at work or about, for example, a parent who you worry that it might disappoint. If you want to change careers, you will feel guilty about that too, worrying about stuff like wasting a degree, wasting opportunities, or not living out someone else’s dream.

You’ve been sold a duff premise that if you can make [the critic] happy then you will be happy, which I’m sure you’re wondering where the hell that sense of contentment is. The frustrating thing is that guilt is one of those emotions that serves no purpose unless you positively learn from what you feel guilty about and do something about it to move on, which is the opposite of what this critic wants because then you won’t be controllable.

JOURNALING: Do you identify with The Guilter experience? Write about the ways in which this habit has manifested itself in your life – locate your specific habits of thinking and behaviour. Is there anyone from your past that has influenced The Guilter’s tape and if so, who are they and what did they teach you about life? What were the reasoning habits that you used to explain their behaviour and outlook? How have these affected your perception of your rights and responsibilities? What don’t you have a right to feel, think or do? What are you supposed to be responsible for? Can you recognise that person’s motivations and what was going on in their life that they behaved as they did? Use Unsent Letters to explore your experiences with this person so that you can empathise with him/her and your younger self.

Is there something that you feel was a genuine wrongdoing that you have not forgiven you for and which your backing trap has developed from the pattern of berating you? Why do you think that this is the way in which you hold you to account? What have you done so far to 'atone' for this and what will signify enough? Try writing down what happened using an Unsent Letter so that you can gain some fresh perspective - you will learn something new about the experience and release some of the feelings connected to this pattern.

Are there other experiences in your life where you inferred the lesson that you did not matter as much as others - why, for instance, did you feel it’s wrong to be happy? Can you see the ways in which you have been punishing you for someone else’s experience? Can you see ways in which you can love a person without guilt or obligation being the driver? What are the objections that pop into your head?

TASK: Write a list of the things that you feel guilty about - which items wholly and solely belong to you, which ones are outside of your control or certainly partly down to another? Why are you still taking the blame? Which ones can you let go of now? If there's resistance to letting go ("buts"), what has a pervasive sense of guilt prevented you from having to be or do (the hidden motivation)? What do you get to avoid?

Don’t forget to use the Resources to help you to work through feelings that come up – the Releasing Exercise is ideal for homing in on memories associated with not being perfect being a problem. Unsent Letters are ideal for distinguishing you from others, forgiving you and using compassionate enquiry to think about what you can do next.

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