How can we gain from feeling guilty

When do you feel guilty?
My very conscientious ten-year old said, “when I know I did something wrong”.
What comes to mind for me is when I have “over-done something”. This can be anything like one too many cups of coffee or that extra portion of triple chocolate anything. There is yet another form of guilt, perhaps one that is more intense.This is when “one thinks one has failed in his/her responsibility to another”.

But there is yet another level of guilt that cuts in even deeper into our emotions.
The thinking goes something like this: I have failed in my responsibility to my loved ones in how I handled the family finances. Their life styles are compromised because of what I did. This guilt cuts deep into who we are and hurts most intensely. Unfortunately, this is often felt more intensely amongst men. Many have taken on the responsibility of or the traditional role as the provider of the family and of creating wealth for the future of the family.

When financial circumstances turned for the worse for some, either due to the downturn in financial markets or the poorer state of the economy, these translated to less fortunate employment opportunities and loss of family wealth in savings and investments. Many men took these “losses” as their failures to provide and felt guilty about the circumstance they put their families through. This guilt has been felt by many in the last few years but left unspoken by most.

Have you considered the implications of this emotion on its “sufferers’”? One important one is on how they will make future monetary decisions.

We face guilt differently. Some bury it or simply allow it to lurk and simmer on the surface of emotions. These “sufferers” tend to make the next decisions by total avoidance or by taking to the other extreme, without more consideration of their choices. They mostly result in detrimental or less than ideal financial results.

Lessons not drawn from losses are losses lost.

The more positive reactions I have seen come from those who have bravely faced the emotion. “Guilty is, but moving on”. They are now giving greater consideration to financial questions like risks, how and what they invest in and whom they trust and are involving their spouses in more monetary decisions. The secret weapon of these success stories lies in the latter part of the above sentence: spouses and family who have equally accepted the losses and agree to rebuild the family future together.

Lessons drawn from guilt are future profits to be gained.

21 June 2014
Wai-Yee Chen