Two ways we can define mental health is by the degree with which are living in reality, no matter how painful, and by the degree that we take responsibility for our own lives, no matter how difficult.
The challenge in this is that first we must be able to recognize reality through the cloud of messages that we have received starting early in our childhood, and the database of assumptions (perhaps inaccurate) that we have formed as a result.
Most everyone has heard of ‘survivor’s guilt’ — where a person who has been through a traumatic experience feels bad when they have not suffered to the same depth as others going through the same experience, or have been spared death when others haven’t. Well-known examples would be an automobile accident, war, natural disaster, etc. But there are many other circumstances that also produce what we would define as false guilt.
If I could define guilt as “I did something wrong” – then I would define false guilt as “I feel like I did something wrong, but I didn’t.”
The problem is that the effect on our emotional wellbeing is the same in either case. It’s what I believe about something, even more than what is accurate, that will determine its influence over my life. What then becomes important is seeking the truth and allowing it to heal the broken places.
Many kids grow up thinking that they were responsible for their parent’s divorces.
“If I had only been a better behaved child”
“If I only had intervened when my parents were fighting”
“If only I hadn’t gotten sick or been born with a challenging physical condition.”
In relationships we can do the same thing when there is conflict and turmoil.
“If only I had chosen my words more carefully” (when dealing with an abusive partner)
“If only I had taken a second job” (when dealing with a spouse who is under responsible with money.)
“If only I had tried harder” (when dealing with an impossibly negative person).
You can see that these lists can go on and on.
Do you have a list of false guilts in your own life? Are you suffering needlessly from incorrect assumptions? You need to share these painful places with others so that they can help you see reality better.
We do need to take responsibility for our shortcomings and seek forgiveness when we are wrong. But emotional health comes when we live in the light of truth.