Why Do I Feel Bad? If you've ever wondered why you sometimes feel bad, guilty, or depressed? Keep reading. Deep-rooted reasons may shed light on your feelings. BY DR. NEIL FIORE
Sometimes feelings can keep a person locked up inside.
GUILT: Some forms of irrational guilt result from an illusion of power and responsibility.
Guilt can be healthy when it reminds us that we're deviating from our values. Some forms of guilt, however, spring from the belief that we should be able to save and protect others. While we have a duty to protect those under our care, we are human and, therefore, have limited power and authority over the lives and fortunes of others. Yet, as children, we often feel guilty because we think we should be able to keep our parents happy, just as we did when we were infants. When as adults, we continue to hold onto the child’s "illusion of unlimited power," we can evoke feelings of guilt and self-blame.
Tip: Accepting yourself as human, that is, not a god or a magical child, with limited powers will help remove much of your irrational guilt. I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re not so powerful that you can control the feelings and actions of your spouse. Even when they tell you, "You make me happy. You make me sad." Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you’re that powerful. Do take responsibility for your actions and your attitude, but understand that, if you don't have the power and authority, you don't have the responsibility or the guilt.
FEEL BAD: Independence requires that you deviate from your parents' beliefs and view of the world.
Unfortunately, much of your parents’ advice will not help you to face the challenges and opportunities of today's world. As the next generation, you must find your own way in a world that is very different from that of previous generations. For example: What was true about the stock market 70 years ago–– and even 10 years ago––does not apply today. Don't even get me talking about the housing market.
The older generation will give you advice and try to help you avoid making their mistakes. But you must reject their advice and risk making your own mistakes if you are to mature––even if they get angry and you feel guilty.
Tip: It hurts when loved ones make you choose between maintaining their approval and honoring your own sense of what’s right for you. But you can learn to live with this form of discomfort and guilt if you understand that it’s you who must live with the consequences of your decisions, not them. Keep in mind that, ultimately, you will make yourself unhappy if you deny what is true for you today.
DEPRESSED: You may feel depressed and shamed if you are accused of violating the rules of the culture.
Somewhere in the mammal part of your brain is an ancient survival response that keeps you, and the family dog, from fighting in situations where you’re likely to lose and be mortally wounded. This "surrender" or "yielding" response suppresses your aggression hormones and lowers your head in order to bow to those of higher rank in the pack and the community.
If you break a taboo or jump to the head of the line––in front of the queen or alpha male––you'll be warned, then bitten or kicked until you get the message to mind your manners and maintain the hierarchical structure of the society.
The dog will shake off this hormonal response in minutes, but humans tend to take it personally and think of themselves as bad, shameful and of lower worth than others. If you’re repeatedly "put down" by the top dogs and made to keep your (lower) place, you could develop low self-esteem and depression.
Tip: With your higher human brain you can override the mammal brain’s fear of fire and its yielding response by maintaining your worth regardless of what others say or do. Mammals show non-aggression and surrender by rolling over or lowering their heads and putting their tail between their legs. With your human brain you can choose to wave and put your hands in the air to show that you have no weapons; that you come in peace. And you can acknowledge—with a bow, a smile or a salute––the rank or power of others in society while maintaining your own sense of dignity.
You also can separate your sense of worth from your position in society and can keep it safe from the judgment of others.
Dr. Neil Fiore is a psychologist practicing in Berkeley, CA. He is a coach, a speaker, and author of Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage [McGraw-Hill, 2006]. His bestselling guide to overcoming procrastination, The Now Habit [Putnam, 2007], is revised and available at iTunes under "Audio books," and at www.audible.com under "Self-Development." You can find Dr. Fiore's "Free Articles & Tips" at www.neilfiore.com.