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I Choose The Bear – Breaking The Myth Of Manufactured Guilt

Iva Perez is on a mission to help 1,000 women and entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success, confidence and freedom. She has successfully merged 20 years of corporate experience with her studies on the Science of the Mind into her role as a Licensed Transformational Hypnotherapist and is endorsed by UK’s No. 1 Therapist, Marisa Peer.

 
Executive Contributor Iva Perez

Manufactured guilt is as misleading and damaging as fake news. To escape its crippling grip, we must embrace healthy, free-flowing guilt instead. Discover how the right kind of guilt can lead to genuine self-worth and empowerment.


Portrait of young beautiful business woman standing against white wall.

Manufactured guilt is like fake news—misleading, pervasive, and damaging.


It’s hard being a woman when we believe in the myth of manufactured guilt.


Like a chicken-or-egg type of dilemma: is manufactured guilt the result of living in a dysfunctional society that throws paradoxical demands on women 24/7? 


Or is manufactured guilt at the core of a dysfunctional system designed to keep women from looking after themselves and exploring new paths and identities?


One thing is for sure. Society uses guilt and shame to enforce norms because it's more efficient than using threats or punishments. This applies across the board: to both men and women. 


However, women—more than menneed to navigate a complex maze of ‘damned if you do/ damned if you don’t’ scenarios that result in a suffocating sense of shame and guilt preventing them from feeling good enough.


This article isn't a feminist stance but an invitation to engage in healthy, profound conversations about our collective well-being, ensuring a better future for the next generations.


And neither is it about women having to choose between individualism and community. After all, there’s a whole spectrum of nuances between the Western world, where individual needs and self-identity are prioritized, and in Eastern communities, where family and relationships are central. 


Rather, this article is about reclaiming the freedom to reframe outside expectations that interfere with their ability to define themselves authentically.


To illustrate this point, let's examine the manufactured shame directed at women for answering a provocative question on TikTok: If given the choice, would a woman rather encounter a bear or a strange man in the woods?


The answer, almost unanimously, is the bear. 


The choice of the bear over the man is not a whimsical preference but a calculated risk assessment— with statistics showing nearly one-third of women worldwide having been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence, “mostly perpetrated by men” by The World Health Organization reports


On the other hand, there have been only 66 fatal human/bear encounters in 240 years. That’s 66 fatal conflicts since 1784. Less than a dozen non-fatal encounters happen yearly, and the vast majority end with zero bodily contact. 


This underscores women’s pervasive fear and mistrust towards the unknown intentions of men—a fear rooted in centuries of violence and oppression. 


The bear is chosen versus the strange man because women have an internalized fear and mistrust towards the unknown intentions of men after having firsthand experiences involving domestic violence, sexual assault, and many other forms of violence and abuse at the hands of men. Not bears.


And yet, many men not only feel offended by the responses, but they are going out of their way to troll and make fun of women for their choice! 


Many are dumping manufactured guilt on women for choosing the bear when the reason for their choice is precisely because they must navigate a pervasive culture of victim-blaming in the real world as victims of male perpetrators. 


Society’s tactics of manufactured guilt have conditioned women to accept a paradoxical narrative that puts them at odds with themselves undermining their confidence.


A similar idea was presented by Reshma Saujani during Smith College’s 2023 Commencement speech when she spoke about ‘Bicycle Face’, a term, she explained, was coined and used “as a tool to keep our concentration on our inadequacies, not the system that is set against us.”


The tactics of manufactured guilt are everywhere. 


Here is a list of things that seem ‘normal’ but they are not in our current modern-day society making women experience manufactured guilt as a result. Only by changing this list collectively and bringing men into thoughtful conversationscan we start healing and thriving:


  • Women are expected to work like they don’t have kids and raise kids like they don’t work. 

  • Women are expected to be nice, yet "nice girls" don't get ahead.

  • Women are expected to keep family secrets or use denial as a way to deal with issues or “move on”.

  • Women are expected to carry the lion’s share of parenting without emotional support and then experience burnout from trying to do it all. 

  • Women are expected to perform to higher standards for work and professionalism, yet they’re criticized if they are ‘too much’ of anything. 

  • Women are expected to do jobs without meaning or purpose because they need to be ‘productive’ and show their worth.

  • Women are expected to rather come across a strange man if they’re alone in the woods, even though statistically they’re safer encountering a bear.


As a Rapid Transformational Hypnotherapist, I see a vast majority of women who have experienced trauma of some degree as well as many who are depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. Women are unwell for a reason.


The World Economic Forum has named anxiety the world’s number one mental health disorder – more than depression – and it affects women twice as much as men. Many of the conditions and symptoms women experience are the only way most of them know how to respond to absurd ways of life that promote the endless loop of guilt-shame-anger.


The right kind of guilt and shame

Trying to live up to the present-day dysfunctional way of life puts women at odds with themselves_ intensifying feelings of guilt and shame. But this category of guilt and shame is manufactured, meaning it comes from the outside. This makes women carry around the torch of ‘not good enough’ setting themselves up for failure no matter what they attempt.


Just like cholesterol, which has good and bad versions, there are different types of guilt and shame, and understanding the distinctions is a game-changer. The problem is most of us (including men) have lost our conscious connection to the healing forms of guilt and shame, which are restorative emotions at their core.


What does this mean?


According to Karla McLaren, the author of the book “The Language of Emotions,” guilt and shame are vital emotions that help us mature into conscious and well-regulated individuals. The right kind of guilt and shame act like sentries, allowing us to stand upright at the center of our psyche.


The healing influences of free-flowing guilt and shame, which are the restorative versions of these emotions as McLaren points out, help avoid feeling shame-filled or guilt-ridden. This is the tactic that countless perpetrators use with their victims. They make the victim internalize the shame when it’s not even theirs to carry. 

When someone is connected to their free-flowing guilt and shame, they can display a compassionate sense of ethics, courage to judge and supervise their behavior, and strength to amend their actions, ultimately leading to happiness.


Unfortunately, women have endured so much manufactured guilt and shame, that they reject all available versions and do not even know which is which.


A quick cheat sheet on guilt and shame

Guilt and shame can be categorized into two types:


1. True guilt

Researchers define true guilt as altruistic guilt, which arises from having harmed, through one's action or omission, an innocent victim.


True guilt is the knowledge and acknowledgement of wrongdoing. It’s a state of circumstance and it’s binary- you’re either guilty or not guilty in relation to a legal or moral code. You cannot feel guilty. You can only be found guilty, your emotion about it doesn’t matter. If you’re not guilty, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. 


True Shame: This is the natural emotional consequence of guilt and wrongdoing. If you commit an offense, what you feel is shame.


If you are guilty, and thus you have compromised your standards of conduct or have violated universal moral standards and bear significant responsibility for that violation, it’s natural you want to do something about it. The shame that comes from true guilt carries important information that must be embraced to free yourself from rumination down the line. 


This emotion, explains McLaren, steps in and helps restore your internal boundary that you’ve broken yourself. 


2. Manufactured guilt and shame

Manufactured or applied guilt/shame is crippling as it’s a learned behavior from childhood. This is what happens when we are taught about shame by being shamed. 


Authority figures attempt to teach us and control us by applying shame from the outside instead of trusting our natural ability to moderate our behavior (good girls don’t act that way, we don’t get angry in this family, no one will love you until…)


The story of writer and therapist Sahaj Kaur Kohli exemplifies this. When she told her parents she was battling depression and needed to see a therapist, Kohli says they worried how others might perceive her mental health struggles. “But what will people say?” was their answer.


Even if her parents were indeed worried and concerned for her, their answer sheds light on how women have suffered the pervasive force of manufactured guilt and shame for generations.


Being a victim of violence or experiencing trauma further exacerbates this issue. Trauma survivors often internalize the blame for the harm done to them, feeling responsible for the actions of their abusers. This results in deep-seated, manufactured guilt and shame that further diminishes their self-worth and ability to heal.


Both McLaren and several studies agree on the existence of manufactured shame. McLaren states that manufactured shame is rooted in expectations and reinforced by tradition. Research explains this guilt as deontological guilt, which arises from the transgression of an internalized norm. 


In this type of guilt, disgust is a core component. Teaching someone they are disgusting for not obeying an established moral code involves the person’s sense of self making it an excellent instrument for teaching respect for norms. 


Many online definitions of guilt make refer to deontological guilt which alludes to Fromm’s argument that the fear of being guilty is the fear of having outraged an authority, even an unreal internalized one:


“Guilt is a moral emotion that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that they have compromised their standards of conduct or have violated universal moral standards and bear significant responsibility for that violation. ¹


“Guilt involves moral transgressions (real or imagined), in which people believe that their action (or inaction) contributed to negative outcomes. ²


Within victims of abuse or trauma, disgust goes deeper manifesting as self-disgust. This internalized emotion leads the victim to believe they are inherently flawed, deserving of the abuse, and broken beyond repair.


The manufactured guilt and shame add a layer of emotional burden, reinforcing a cycle of self-doubt and unworthiness.


Embracing true shame to foster self-worth and healing

In her book, McLaren states that shame doesn’t require any help to be channeled. It will pour out of us without permission. This is what leads to experiencing free-flowing shame: 


“Free-flowing authentic healthy shame is sensible, momentary, and empowering. It places authentic brakes on your impulses.”


When women embrace authentic shame they can extract themselves from the shame-inducing messages of others because it helps them have an internal sentry that honors their morality. 


By not letting shame fester, we free up incredible amounts of energy allowing us to:

  • Understand oneself

  • Act in accordance with proper behaviors

  • Avoid compulsions or addictions


When we cannot appropriately welcome this emotion in an way it’s hard to moderate our behavior. This is what leads us to experience boundary-related anger—continually doing things we know are wrong but we don’t have the strength to stop ourselves. 


This leads to an internalized anger that signals a broken boundary either because we’ve done something wrong or been convinced we have.


The journey towards healing starts with a radical shift in perspective.


By reframing the expectations thrust upon us as mere societal constructs rather than immutable truths, women can take back their power and build up their self-worth and confidence.


In her book, “But what will people say?” Kohli explains that often, women mistake disappointing others for guilt, believing they are doing something wrong.


It is important for women to be vigilant and ask themselves: 


Do I feel guilty because my loved ones subscribe to values that don’t align with mine? 


Whether it’s choosing to work or stay home, asking for help instead of doing it all or focusing on oneself instead of putting others first, do you feel wrong because others disapprove? 


Just because you feel bad doesn’t mean you’re doing something bad. Discernment between these experiences is essential.


Since most of us have experienced manufactured shame since childhood, it is important to ask: If I’m feeling shame, what am I guilty of? Chances are, you are not guilty of anything. 


Most likely we are responding to manufactured shame from the outside, where someone else is arbitrarily feeling disappointed or displeased with our behavior or choices based on their preferences. 


In the case of victims of abuse or trauma, manufactured or applied shame can be crippling often requiring professional intervention**. Most victims display an internalized self-disgust stemming from the belief that they are somehow dirty, tainted, or responsible for what they endured. 


Self-disgust can lead to feeling broken beyond repair, deeply affecting one’s mental health, and can manifest in several ways:


  • Internalized Blame

  • Hopelessness

  • Humiliation

  • Physical Disgust

  • Social Withdrawal

  • Self-Destructive Behaviors

Understanding the role of disgust in the aftermath of trauma is crucial for healing. 


Rapid Transformational Therapy by a trained professional helps address these deeply ingrained feelings of self-disgust and change victims’ core beliefs helping reframe their experiences, shift the misplaced blame, and rebuild a sense of self-worth and dignity.


When victims are left to their own devices, they don’t have the skills or practice for shame in any of its forms. They crumble in front of all shame – whether it belongs to them or not. When free-flowing shame does occur, victims may become overwhelmed and dissociate even further from their emotional selves.


Manufactured guilt and shame have long been tools of societal control, creating a toxic cycle of self-doubt and unworthiness. 


When we understand the distinction between these damaging emotions and their healthy counterparts, we reclaim our power. Embracing true guilt and authentic shame as guides for personal growth allows us to break free from imposed expectations. 


This journey towards self-awareness and self-compassion is a path to individual healing that bolsters a collective movement towards a more just and supportive society. 


By fostering these profound conversations and challenging the current dysfunctional way of life, we can build a future where women are free to define themselves and thrive without the burdens of manufactured guilt and shame.


Only a collective of healed, empowered women can change societal norms and raise a new generation that harmonizes the roles of men and women alike. 


To echo Reshma Saujani, getting there might be a life-long effort.


But strive we must. We owe it to future generations to make manufactured guilt the equivalent of fake news. 


Please seek help from a trained therapist who has the skill sets to work with trauma to provide appropriate support or contact me directly at om@themomergymovement.com to get you the required assistance.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

 

Iva Perez, Transformational Hypnotherapist

Iva Perez is on a mission to help 1,000 women and entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success, confidence and freedom. She has successfully merged 20 years of corporate experience with her studies on the Science of the Mind into her role as a Licensed Transformational Hypnotherapist and is endorsed by UK’s No. 1 Therapist, Marisa Peer. She helps women and entrepreneurs drop the overwhelm and anxiety and, instead, create new subconscious beliefs to facilitate powerful transformations. This way, mothers can successfully navigate the overlap between work and family life. Iva is the co-host of the Top Ranked podcast, Mom Bosses Abroad as well as an avid speed reader and matcha evangelist.

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