Self-Centered and Other Person-Centered Guilt

After reflecting on the troubles they have caused others, it is normal for people to feel guilt; according to Dr. Clark Chilson, there are two different types of guilt: self-centered and other person-centered guilt, in Naikan, people experience the latter, where they focus on the difficulties they have given to others, and look for ways to make their relationships better.

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Naikan will make people feel guilty

Clark: So typically, many people in the English language world have a real problem with guilt. And it's important because they have a very specific understanding of what guilt is. And guilt is a complex emotion that can be driven by different mental vectors. 

And I just want to outline two types of guilt that I think are important to distinguish when it comes to thinking about guilt and Naikan in relation to guilt. Naikan will make people feel guilty. In some ways, if it is making people feel guilty, this is usually a good sign.

But here's the important thing to realise, most people think of guilt in the sense of being a very self-centred type of guilt. In other words, guilt about being I'm bad, it's about me and I should be a better person. And that was terrible of me. And it's very self-centred. And very self-centred guilt is destructive. 

That's bad guilt. That is not a healthy, constructive type of guilt. But there is another type of guilt, which is other person centred, which can be healthy, because it's a guilt that says, I want to repair that relationship, I hurt this other person, I was not kind to that other person in that situation, I could have done better, I should have done better. And now I want to do something about it. 

And so the guilt is not focused on me, and how I'm a bad person, that guilt is focused on the pain and suffering of the other person. And so therefore instils a motivation to want to repair that relationship. And that is a healthier form of guilt. Unfortunately, most people only think about guilt as the first type. And it's in part because we're naturally selfish.

Nick: Well, I think that's a significant distinction. And that actually reminds me of this expression meiwaku kakenaide in Japanese that I remember learning. And it translates to "don't cause trouble for others." 

The Japanese are very aware of not causing trouble to others. And I share a story from another episode where I was shocked that this father's parting greeting to his three year old daughter at kindergarten would be meiwaku kakenaide, like don't cause trouble today. 

Whereas I was sort of cuddling my son and I love you. I was stunned, but it sort of took me a few conversations with my wife and other people to realise that he is also sort of saying be a good girl today. And so, that idea of the guilt where you've caused trouble to others, you'd want to repair that or fix that or make peace with that so you could move on, I think makes sense. Rather than thinking, I'm a bad evil person or something. That totally makes sense.