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Alternatives to Guilt

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Alternatives to Guilt

Postby DaturaInnoxia » Sat May 16, 2020 7:31 am

In the empathy is narcissism thread, I made a comment that reffered to how emotional empathy is supposed to be a motivator - and now it has me thinking about the emotional motivational purpose of guilt.

If empathy encourages prosocial behavior like species or tribal cooperation, reciprocal (and other forms of false) altruism, kin selection, etc ----- and if they choose to, people who lack it can use perspective taking to achieve similar results, how could this translate into guilt as an emotional motivator?

Like empathy, some people cannot utilize guilt as a motivator because they're frozen, or so much has accumulated it's not safe (for time being), or because they're not capable of feeling it, or they just plain don't want to.

I also know, from observing others and from personal experience, that trying to moralize or trying to force people into internalizing "wrongness" is an ineffective way of teaching people because they often either shut down or act out even more (variety of reasons).

I've seen and experienced the 12 steps to be effective for addressing this, but that's obviously reserved for those who are receptive to it rather than having it shoved down their throats.


It would be interesting to recieve input as to what could be a couple gears down from, or an alternative to, guilt as an effective motivator (to create wanted changes within oneself).

Same with hearing about people's formulas / processes of utilizing their emotions or the functions they're supposed to serve.
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Re: Alternatives to Guilt

Postby justonemoreperson » Sat May 16, 2020 7:47 am

For me, it's simply reward behaviour: I know what works and what doesn't. If you treat people well, they'll treat you well, and if you don't then you can issue a sincere-looking apology and that works, as people seemed conditioned to forgive.

Guilt and empathy are complex conditioned responses to others' behaviour. I think the reason I don't have any real empathy is because I failed to learn the connections when I was young, so they didn't properly form. Therefore, I have had to learn this consciously since. I didn't care about my parents or other family members and so their opinion on my behaviour had little effect.

For most, these behaviours are so well inculcated, before they had the ability to rationalise the link, that it's seen as instinctive or even divine. This is the reason I think that people internalise wrongness; it's built in them before they've had chance to develop critical thought.

We know that it's learned, as people in different cultures find different things to feel guilty about. Having a beer or a bacon sandwich causes few issues in Christian-based countries, but would cause emotional chaos to someone from a Muslim background.

If internalised wrongness has not worked when you were a very young child, then it's not going to work via reason.
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Re: Alternatives to Guilt

Postby DaturaInnoxia » Sat May 16, 2020 8:55 am

Thank you for the input.

For whatever reason guilt doesn't work (be it since childhood or acquired), I'm wondering what other effective replacements could be.
I'm too idealistic to give up on these ideas.

justonemoreperson wrote:For me, it's simply reward behaviour: I know what works and what doesn't. If you treat people well, they'll treat you well, and if you don't then you can issue a sincere-looking apology and that works, as people seemed conditioned to forgive.


I see this is an example of an (albeit vague) gear down to guilt as a motivator.

If there was ever a time in your life where you experienced a pattern of behaviors that did not work and had serious consequences for you + the sincere looking apologies didn't work + you no longer wanted to repeat those patterns, how did you get yourself to address it?



I think I accidentally had a double connotation when I said "internalizing wrongness"

One connotation was that as a motivator, it's supposed to get one to feel regret for the behavior and a desire to try to make it up somehow which leads to overall changes in behavior or personality.

The other connotation being guilt trips and even switching over to shaming others and pushing them to feel inherently "bad" - which is unhealthy for anyone

In one of my psych classes last year, we learned about studies that found that shaming children or acting like they were "bad" (instead of focusing on the undesirable behavior, why it's undesirable, and how to make reparations) decreased their ability to feel healthy guilt for doing something they knew was wrong and empathy towards people they hurt.
+ I think it's important to step away from any of this being seen as a "divine" quality because it's a cop out in so many situations.
They collect information to stock pile in their souls, saying, "I will tuck this into my subconscious for later use."  ~ unknown
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Re: Alternatives to Guilt

Postby Esmoke » Sat May 16, 2020 11:04 am

I think guilt can definitely work as a deterrent, you can see people being guilt tripped all the time into doing something they otherwise weren’t going to do before the guilt tripping. I think a big problem is that if there is enough reward a lot of people will rationalize and justify reasons to act against their conscience so they don’t have to feel guilt.

Some people hold steady regardless and act in accordance with what they believe or what their conscience is telling them, I’ve always found this to be almost a strange concept at times as my belief system is largely not concrete as such but I find this a very admiral trait to have. To just stand your ground because you believe in what you are doing. Maybe we are looking at it upside down? Maybe it’s not to avoid feelings of guilt as a punishment but to act in according to one’s beliefs and guilt is only there to remind us when we stay outside of that.
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Re: Alternatives to Guilt

Postby DaturaInnoxia » Sat May 16, 2020 12:55 pm

When I said I was looking for a "geared down" or alternative version of guilt as a motivator, I was hoping to step away from the conscience aspect, the sense of morality behind it and decrease the emotional appeal related to it.

I was attempting to say that guilt-trips from others aren't the same thing as utilizing it as a motivator.
Also, I was referring to self-change because when others try to force it upon you, it makes things worse by leading you to push back harder or shut down further
- especially with strong personalities.

Originally, guilt's "bigger picture" purpose is to keep us adhering (as you called it a reminder) to some sort of values or societal rules to maintain relations with others for our survival and the survival of our genetics.

I'm going to interpret what you said as focusing on staying close to one's beliefs can serve as an alternative to utilizing the emotion of guilt, thanks
They collect information to stock pile in their souls, saying, "I will tuck this into my subconscious for later use."  ~ unknown
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Re: Alternatives to Guilt

Postby Esmoke » Sat May 16, 2020 1:38 pm

That’s a deep question, I haven’t thought at that deep of a level about it. I believe people act in accordance with their belief system or conscience, whatever that is for them I see guilt as more of an indication they have acted in a way they see as wrong or against their own morals or beliefs. So I would say your own beliefs guide you more so than an active avoidance of guilt.

I think the church and other institutions use shame and humiliation to control people well maybe in olden days more so than now. I view that as different than genuine guilt one feels internally. I think those forms of control create a bigger problem than what they solve usually if that’s what you are referring to when you say teach other with guilt and internalized badness
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Re: Alternatives to Guilt

Postby DaturaInnoxia » Sat May 16, 2020 2:02 pm

The other thing that inspired my desire to ask this question was when, in another thread, ViniStoneMoss referred to it being an effective method of correcting one's behavior (its purpose/motivator) < I wanted to brainstorm further on the topic.
They collect information to stock pile in their souls, saying, "I will tuck this into my subconscious for later use."  ~ unknown
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Re: Alternatives to Guilt

Postby Esmoke » Sat May 16, 2020 2:39 pm

DaturaInnoxia wrote:The other thing that inspired my desire to ask this question was when, in another thread, ViniStoneMoss referred to it being an effective method of correcting one's behavior (its purpose/motivator) < I wanted to brainstorm further on the topic.


It’s an interesting subject, I’d like to hear what Vini thinks on the subject. This really opens a whole new can of worms too. If you think about someone with not a very good sense of themselves as seen with narcissistic disorders or personality disorders in general and not having a good foundation to help make these what are probably little judgment calls for most people just make automatically. Or even adopt a new set of ideals that suddenly appeal to them. Without a solid core to guide someone they could get lost in a way. I wonder if that’s all Npd is, without a solid sense of self they wander off and lose touch with who the are. I’m rambling a bit here don’t mind me
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Re: Alternatives to Guilt

Postby ViniStonemoss » Sat May 16, 2020 7:29 pm

I believe people can leverage whatever emotion they have in their toolset.

Guilt is perhaps the obvious one since it is associated with morality. People with BPD have plenty of guilt on hand. In this case, the challenge may be to discriminate between toxic guilt (for instance, when you keep dating someone abusive) vs helpful guilt (for instance, if you act selfishly and manipulate people into looking after you).

People with NPD don't deal with guilt as much (they sometimes confuse shame with guilt), but they do have plenty of shame on hand. The trick, I'm assuming, is not to runaway from it, although it's very natural to try to runaway from uncomfortable emotions.

If you don't feel shame, there is always anger left. For example, people with ASPD are perhaps less prone to shame than people with NPD (the latter more likely to trick themselves into thinking they care), but that does not mean they don't have strong emotions.

Emotions are always a point of entry, but I don't believe therapy/recovery/progresses have to be an emotional process in the dramatic sense of the word. Stoic people remain stoic. Emotional people remain sensitive, you just don't hurt as much or anymore.

So the ultimate motivator is to eliminate discomfort (guilt, shame, anger etc.), but the fact that to eliminate discomfort you might have to go through a bit of discomfort can act as a strong deterrent.

Guilt-trips are always wrong. Emotional appeal is bad strategy if your interlocutor does not deal with emotional empathy. And moralization is only occasionally OK to draw a boundary, for example if someone is encroaching on your space of freedom or someone else's. Even in this case, it is indeed never wise (not to mention brutal) to expect someone to grow a moral system out of thin air. Instead, It's to signal to your interlocutor that they're hurting you and/or sucking the air out of the room, to remind them of the world outside of their own. It's purely pragmatic if you will and can, at best, elicit curiosity but the goal should never be to elicit compliance.

I don't know if people who were not taught empathy can grow one at an adult age. Should be possible based on the literature. But it's not something I witnessed firsthand.
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Re: Alternatives to Guilt

Postby DaturaInnoxia » Sat May 16, 2020 10:51 pm

I believe people can leverage whatever emotion they have in their toolset.


So utilizing the next available emotion to be the motivator can be an alternative to guilt.
I wonder how other emotions could be used to facilitate this.

Another thing I'm understanding you to say is that the emotions don't have to be dramatic to serve as motivators.

Thank you for the input.

Instead, It's to signal to your interlocutor that they're hurting you and/or sucking the air out of the room, to remind them of the world outside of their own.


I've cringed when I've seen people try to use moralizing on youth with RAD to try to push them into guilt or showing empathy.

I'm not sure why people think it's appropriate to try to appeal with "how do you think they/I feel when you do that?" to individuals who never (or rarely) experienced people in positions of power to show respect or regard for them - same with any other talk of "right" and "wrong"
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