Guilt is not a primary emotion, like anger, joy, sadness... But it is one of the most intense & often-felt emotions by ACoAs. It is a familiar companion of negative self-talk & to actions we believe to be bad, but may not be.
Guilt is connected to self-hate: since our default position is that we’re intrinsically bad, anything & everything that goes wrong for us is OUR FAULT. This leads to perfectionism - the obsession about being soooo good, without flaws - that we’ll finally be loved, accepted, understood... BY WHOM? Of course - our family --- & then everyone else in the whole world !

(This self-hate assumption is never supposed to be questioned & is very hard to give up, even when we ‘know better’ - because it makes us feel less vulnerable, a little more powerful! After all, if “it’s my fault, then it’s in my control - so I can fix it, change something in me or in the other person - to make it all better”!)
1. Guilt is an emotion - generated by ↩
2. breaking a law or rule - of ↩
3. society, government, religion, community, school or family.
4. What category of rules do we most often break, when we’re feeling guilty? FAMILT RULES! (Expl: “If you don’t like it you have to stay!”)
Therefore - guilt is caused by any thought or action which disobeys the rules we internalized as kids. Guilt is about what we DO.

IMPORTANT to remember:
• we don’t have to consciously agree with the rule - but the WIC has to believe it applies to it, no matter how much we may hate it or intellectually know better.
• most ACoAs don’t even realize we’ve absorbed those toxic rules & are
automatically obeying them (pg. 22 vs pg. 65) - but we can tell by our life patterns. They’re things we do over & over, automatically.
✶ If the family rules were healthy, we would be doing positive, self-esteeming things, most of the time.
✶ If the rules are unhealthy, we act on them in ways which hurt ourselves and others, on a regular basis.

EXAMPLES: We feel guilty for
■ not making our parents, friends, lovers, children... happy
■ making anyone angry at us, no matter what the reason
■ not being able to stop someone from drinking, drugging, or doing other self-destructive things
■ standing up for our rights, needs, tastes... (we think it’s selfish & that we’re being confrontational)
■ getting sick, being tired, not wanting to do something...
■ taking time for ourselves, needing down time, taking a vacation
■ not knowing something or taking a long time to learn things (we have so many ‘shoulds’)
■ having need, desires, our own opinions, likes & dislikes
■ not being smarter, more sociable, more successful, more outgoing...

5. PURPOSE of Guilt:
✶ To make us go back to obeying the law or rule we broke.
Being able to feel guilt is a natural & positive thing. It’s built into our psyche, like the ability to love. People who are devoid of guilt are called sociopaths / psychopaths. The issue for most ACoAs is that we feel guilty about things that are not actually bad - like having needs, or emotions !

6. RESULTs of breaking Family Rules:
✧ Internal Backlash, in the form of - yes, guilt - but also: getting sick, feeling depressed, heightened anxiety, panic attacks, being irritable...
✧ External Backlash - possibly from family, if you’re in contact with them, since they want you to ‘stick to the plan’ & not abandon them by being different. Also from friends, bosses, mates, even children - for the same reason - they’re used to you the ‘old’ way & don’t want to make any changes in themselves to accommodate our growth!
OK, so WHAT IF we
● identify the TOXIC family rules we’ve internalized
● decide that obeying those rules actually prevents our recovery process
● that in order to heal & grow, we have to stop obeying those rules
--------What should we expect?

7. HEALTH: Yes, at the very least, the painful emotion of guilt. But:
✶ This time - the guilt is a SIGNAL that we’re doing something good for ourselves. Since we don’t want to return to obeying the toxic rules, we need to THINK differently about our actions, & say to ourselves:
“This emotion is actually a signal that I’m on the right track - when I’m doing the opposite of what I learned as a child, I’m doing something healthy by NOT obeying a harmful rule, so YEAH!”

✶ If we continue to dis-obey toxic rules, the guilt will eventually diminish & perhaps even go away completely. So, it’s imperative that we tolerate this kind of guilt and other kinds of unpleasant reactions, in the short term, & continue thinking & acting in self-esteeming / self-empowering ways, even in the face of opposition.
✶ Because this process is stressful, we need the right kinds of supportive people in our life, to encourage, correct confusing thoughts, reinforce our resolve & laud our progress. A long as the support is positive, it can come from anywhere - clergy, healthy family members, friends, therapy, books, internet, 12-step meetings, rehab for co-dependence, spiritual disciplines...
✶ When we repeat new, healthy actions, we form new pathways in the brain which then make it easier & more natural to be comfortable & successful in all aspects of our lives.

Q: Now, when you feel guilty, do you know which family rule you’re breaking?

Author's Bio: 

is a psychotherapist in private practice for 24 yrs in New York City,
specializing in ACoA RECOVERY (adult-children of alcoholics & other narcissists).

She has appeared on radio, television & at New Life Expo, created & presented ACoA / Al-Anon intensive weekend workshops & ran an ACoA therapy group for 6 years.

She was an instructor at the NY OPEN CENTER for 9 yrs, presenting her 12-week interactive lecture course “KNOWLEDGE Is POWER: What makes an ACoA”

She works with individuals & couples/partners, in person and by phone & Skype. FREE Intro Session, to see if there is compatibility.

For Testimonials, go to ("About Me")