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Many parents and teachers in our culture attempt to motivate their children by guilt. Consider these phrases: "Don't disappoint me."  "Your father and I will really be unhappy with you if..."  "You have really let us down."


Individuals who live with such indoctrination will have trouble with guilt even if they live impeccable lives. They become so sensitized to what others might think that they respond with feelings of shame to almost everything they think or do.


Motivation by guilt is often summed up in some form of the phrase, "Shame on you." It is an attempt to produce action or change behavior by stating or implying that failure to do so is cause for guilt.


Motivation by guilt is unwise for many reasons. First, it creates unneeded emotional stress. Secondly, it doesn't work. When people are constantly barraged by guilt-producing statements, they become deaf to the motivational aspects and remember only the guilt aspects. Just as people became deaf to the boy who cried wolf, they become deaf to motivation by guilt. Children who are harangued by guilt-producing statements are not more responsive; they just feel more guilty. Guilt-ridden children are no more obedient or efficient than other children. More likely, the opposite is true. They get so wrapped up in their feelings of shame and remorse that they cannot follow through on the requests that are made of them. Unfortunately, attempts to correct their lack of responsiveness often creates more guilt.


Motivation by guilt also results in side effects that are incompatible with healthy personality growth. Feelings of inferiority, low self esteem, lying to cover up mistakes, aggressive behavior, bragging, withdrawal and self punishment are some of the side effects of motivation by guilt.

People who have been motivated by guilt usually attempt to motivate themselves in the same way. They try to get over feeling guilty by making themselves feel guilty about feeling guilty.  "I shouldn't be feeling this way. If I were a better person I wouldn't be this way."  Motivation by guilt produces bondage whether the statements come from oneself or from others.

Motivation by Guilt

by Dr. Sidney Langston

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