Happiness: Guilt, Criticism, and Projection
An interesting thing that I have noticed about people who feel guilty is that they are not very happy and that they invest a huge amount of energy trying to hide– cover up painful or guilty experiences from being known. Quite often, all of the efforts to hide something– not apparent on the surface has the opposite effect. In stead of covering up guilt, it is like wearing a badge that says, “I am guilty”. It does not take a psychologist to figure out that a person who engages in constant criticism of others is a demonstrating a behavior cue that points to unresolved guilt. Often, the person who is constantly calling attention, implying, suggesting others weaknesses or faults may be shining a light upon something that obviously is wrong and unresolved in the accuser.
Good Guilt v. Bad Guilt
Developmentally, guilt is an emotional warning sign that most people learn during normal childhood social development. Guilt’s purpose is to let us know when we have done something wrong—to keep life balanced. Good guilt operates to help us develop a better understanding about bad choice and danger in our personal behavior. Therefore healthy expressions of guilt prompts a person examine and to re-examine behavior to prevent making the same mistake twice. Indeed, an examination of the pathology of unresolved guilt reveals negative perceptions of what others do that triggers distorted schemas, paralyzing emotions, and distorted reactions connected to a distorted sense of self that acts like a mirror reflecting what is not seen by others and known by the accuser. Unfortunately, misunderstood and unresolved guilt leads to depression, anxiety, and frustration that is projected on someone else rather than becoming a positive force toward change or improvement. Guilt is normally a negative focus coming from a perception of self that moralizes what others are doing and says, “I am a bad person. I cannot bear myself. I am unworthy.”
Often I have said that “the things that we notice and hate about others and that we criticize so passionately, is connected to what we hate about ourselves. Carl Jung said, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness’s of other people” Unfortunately, the guilt ridden accuser does not understand that criticism is a window into their own darkness. Often, behavior is hidden so well beneath misdirected concern shared as a concern with confidants, family, friends that infers perceived wrongdoing. What is really happening is that the guilty accuser uses inference to project their own secretive guilty behaviors on their mirror. Unfortunately, many of the things that people feel so deeply and are so offensive –we speak so loudly, passionately, so convincingly about point back to self-perception embedded within the neurotic guilt. Indeed, the ability of guilt to subconsciously influence how perceptions, beliefs, and beliefs about what is seen should not be underestimated, nor ignored. For instance, in a perfect world of a developing infant, doing, something “bad” is equivalent to murdering all that is good. As the child develops with a lived-experience of shame, performance based acceptance, and guilt ridden feelings, the inability to dispel the gnawing sense of guilt results in the child owning misunderstood feelings about guilt and he/she enters an “adult– normal society.” In the adult world, the normal is distorted by the abnormal thinking from development filtered by a perception of life that skewed by feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, and projection. What happens: the guilt that has been internalized, misunderstood, and unresolved is externalized in projecting behavior toward others when something is seen that feels like the internalized guilt. Then, undigested guilt triggers the guilt-projection system that regurgitates what feels like concern, looks like righteousness, demonstrating rescuing behavior upon others, while calling attention to what is hidden beneath the surface– unresolved guilt that wants to be discovered.
When I listen to people’s conversations, it sounds like there is something not being said, but is implied. Quite often it is what is not being said that is more important than what is being said. For instance, when person helps someone with a situation and someone else gives the pretense of being helpful and recurrent suggestions come up about another person’s faults or problems or even a constant disdain for a particular act, at is the real issue in the conversation? On the one hand, it may be a person who simply is genuinely concerned, but on the other hand it may be a semantically expressed language cue it that says the person talking is struggling with and projecting internalized guilt. It makes me wonder if the concerned person really feels guilty about their own internal struggle or particular behavior that no one knows about. While serving as a pastor, I have had those who felt duty bound to inform me about how certain people are living and taking advantage of their leadership positions and using others. What is common to all of these conversations is that they are people who represent themselves as crusaders of right, justice, and truth is that they are guilt-ridden people who try to guilt others into conformity and want someone to take up their cause. Personally, I think about this activity as the subtle work of Satan who is guilty and accuses others of what he is guilty of. In the book of Revelation Satan is depicted as the one who slanders the innocent and in reality is the one who is guilty. Therefore, a critical question about this kind of accusation and speculation is motivation. At this point, a question important to ask is what lies beneath suspicion and why this behavior is happening at this moment? It may be that there is really a problem that needs to be addressed, but what is the real problem? Consequently, the essential question is why do some people see things that are really not there and act on beliefs that have no substance, evidence, or possess any real real desire to help? One answer may be that some people have a need to rescue others from what they believe is “bad behavior” because there is strongly embedded guilt that says how bad a person actually feels about self and is motivating criticism, i.e., –the person sees their own failure in the acts of others. The effort to direct attention to someone else may simply be transference: an effort to vicariously fix something that feels very wrong in their own life by self incriminating projection of guilt on others. … Neurotic Guilt.
Why does one person believe they are doing right by making someone else guilty– warning, judging, evaluating, devaluing, and invalidating the other persons?
The Voice of Guilt is Saying What?
When a person engages in this kind of destructive inference, crusading to gain support from others, what is the core issue in the accusation? According to Sigmund Freud, it may be projection, which is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one “projects” one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. Projection is one of the defense mechanisms identified by Freud that is used when someone feels threatened or feels afraid of their own impulses–, so the accuser attributes these impulses to someone else. What is apparent among people, who make it their life’s mission to constantly criticize without sound reasoning and responsible approaches to relationships with others, is that the critic has an unresolved problem. It is guilt– the feeling– that comes to the surface when something witnessed in others –a trigger activates recognition of a feeling associated with a past behavior — “a been there done that experience.” An important revelation about constant accusing is that recurring critical activity may be an open confession of unresolved feelings of guilt and self-esteem issues that are being attributed to someone else.
The Blame Game and What is Really Being Said
Throughout the history of the human race it is well documented that people have been struggling with guilt while denying responsibility. The Bible records the story of creation when, Adam and Eve sinned; then, made leaves to cover up while knowing what they had done wrong. Obviously, they did not want to take responsibility for what had happened. Therefore, the response of Eve was to pass the blame on, “it is the serpent that caused the evil act. “ The response of Adam was that it is the woman that you gave me Lord. Guilt makes people project cover up because they are ashamed and understand that something is wrong and needs fixed. Guilt makes people accuse because drawing attention to others behavior deflects attention away from the self –the guilty party. Also, the fear of being exposed motivates people to project judgment for wrong doing upon someone else. Projecting guilt and packaging it in criticism is a way of verbalizing how deeply perceptions of right and wrong— good and bad affects feelings of personal well being and personal security of the acuser. Something to think about is that as long as attention is focused on what is wrong, what is being hidden, energy cannot be focused upon what is possible or what can make life effective, nor can you be happy. Chaplain Murrill 04/27/2012
- PRUDEN: It’s Romney vs. guilt and gilt (washingtontimes.com)
- The Abuse Of Forgiveness (Part Two) (therelentlesspursuit.com)
- Displaced polar bears, misplaced guilt (chicagoreader.com)
- 6 Signs You Are Suffering From Guilt And Probably Don’t Know It (forbes.com)
- The Good, the Bad, and the Guilty: Anticipating Feelings of Guilt Predicts Ethical Behavior (psychologicalscience.org)
- The good, the bad, and the guilty: Anticipating feelings of guilt predicts ethical behavior (eurekalert.org)
- Struggling with Guilt (ptl2010.com)
- WHAT CAN I DO WITH MY GUILT? – R.C. Sproul (2011) (baldreformer.wordpress.com)
- Shame and Guilt: Masters of Disguise (lizawrites.wordpress.com)
- A Very Important Question – Whose Shame are you Carrying Part 1? (secondchancetolive.wordpress.com)