Guilt is not a new concept to Americans – today, there’s a prevalence of collective guilt in our society.
Collective guilt (also known as collective responsibility) is guilt (or responsibility) for being a part of
a group or a perceived group by putting up with, turning a blind eye to, or harboring people whose actions aren’t ones that you’ve actively partaken in. Collective guilt tends to happen because our society tends to lump groups of people together, then blames the whole when one person from the group does something wrong.
Let’s take a look at examples of collective guilt, its effects, and what you can do about it.
Examples of Collective Guilt
If you live in a country that has been covered as one that has been known internationally to start wars, oppress its people, and/or has a government that doesn’t seem to care about its people, you may feel guilty for being a citizen of that country. You may want to tell people in other countries that you’re not like the government. You may feel depressed or ashamed for living where you do. You may not be able to help where you live, and it’s unlikely you have governmental power, but yet, you feel blame for being a citizen of your country.
Religious guilt is more than feeling guilty for sinning or doing things that are not in line with your religion’s teachings. Religious guilt can also occur when a person of your religion uses their faith as a way to hurt, control, or act unkindly towards others. You may want to tell everyone that not everyone in the religion is like this, and you may even say that people like that aren’t a part of your religion at all.
Religions tend to have many different interpretations and denominations, so a variation in your faith is understandable.
Race seems to have had more attention drawn to it as of late, and for many, feeling guilty because of being a certain race is more top-of-mind. For example, if you identify as ‘white’ and see or hear of violence and oppression from other ‘white’ people against those that are not ‘white,’ you may feel guilt. Your race does not define how you act towards others, and while you personally do not espouse the same beliefs as others, you feel some responsibility just for looking similar to those that are causing harm to others.
Like racial issues, gender-based topics have also been more recently covered. With stories about women and nonbinary people being sexually assaulted, having different standards in the workplace, and experiencing difficulties in the healthcare system, if you identify as male, you may feel guilt. Again, you yourself may not have done anything, and yet you believe that you have contributed to problems in these communities. You may feel apologetic and even be depressed.
Collective Guilt Can Be Good
Logically, much of the collective guilt doesn’t make sense. The groups you are a part of are usually based off something you can’t control. You may share the same race with someone across the globe, yet the two of you could have nothing else in common.
However, collective guilt can be good if appropriately acted upon. Some people band together and prove that not everyone is like those that tend to give the group a bad reputation. For example, as a response to religious extremism, more moderate religious groups may form, accepting everyone and letting everyone come in.
If you’re a man, you may organize with other men to address sexual assault and violence against women. Speaking out and creating awareness helps to normalize the idea that assault is wrong and shouldn’t be left unreported.
Activism is the good part of collective guilt. If something makes one feel guilty, our instinct should be to make it right, and you may feel better as a result. Even if you personally didn’t do anything, being able to change the image of a perceived group can make us feel better.
The Bad of Collective Guilt
Collective guilt has its own share of problems. For some who are always exposed to the media and to the struggles people face, the guilt may constantly hurt you. You may develop depression or anxiety. It can be hard to acknowledge that you aren’t responsible, and overcoming guilt is always a challenge, especially if it’s collective.
Another problem of collective guilt is that it may lead to the guilty person being taken advantage of. They may feel they have to be the person who has to speak out, and they may end up paying for another group’s suffering, literally and/or figuratively. This can drain a person and make them feel like their atonement is never good enough.
Getting past collective guilt can be a challenge, but here are a few things you can do.
If your guilt is leading to anxiety or depression, it’s important that you deal with it by speaking to a counselor or a therapist. They can help you with any problems that you may have, and by talking to a counselor, you can be able to learn how to turn that guilt into productivity.
We are all busy with our own lives, and not everyone can be an activist. However, speaking out against injustice and telling others to rally against it can help relieve you of your guilt.
While you should speak out against the wrongs of the world, it’s important to recognize individuality as well. The people who do bad things aren’t you, and you yourself are trying to be as decent as possible.
While it is difficult for one person to make a change for a collective group, you can make a difference for the group, as well as a world of difference by looking inward and focusing on things you can change for yourself.
This is a featured post by site sponsor Better Help.
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