What does it mean to be a bad person?
That’s a complicated question that religion and philosophy have been working to answer for thousands of years.
We’re given sets of rules to live by, encouraged to act in certain ways, and then told we’re bad people when we don’t live up to whatever expectations we’ve been subjected to.
Those expectations don’t always stem from religions or philosophy, though. They also come from family, friends, and the people around us.
We’re born into a family with parents who are generally trying their best to raise happy, healthy children in a way that makes sense to them. But those parents are fallible. They don’t always impart the right lessons or act with supportive love.
They may teach their child that having certain thoughts or taking certain actions, no matter how benign, are a reflection of flawed moral character and badness. “Why would you think that? Why would you do that? What’s wrong with you?”
And then you have other difficulties that come with life…
People with depression, anxiety, mental illnesses, or more physical illnesses may struggle with guilt because of actions that are fueled by the trials that they face.
Abusive relationships, traumatic experiences, and addiction may fuel negative thoughts and perceptions of oneself because of the negativity surrounding these things.
People may be compelled to do bad things when they are in a bad place because it makes sense to them at the time.
They may also be overwhelmed by chaotic emotions that they don’t understand how to navigate, so they make bad decisions.
But does that make them a bad person?
The answer is no.
What does make a person bad?
What makes a person genuinely bad or not depends on what kind of belief system and moral structure you’re following.
But we’re not interested in providing concrete answers to these complicated questions. Instead, we want a workable solution that can help us center and ground ourselves when we feel these emotions and the negative self-talk begins.
A bad person could be someone who makes a conscious choice to act without empathy, and who takes advantage of and harms others for personal gain.
There is a massive difference between a person who is wrong and a person who chooses to do wrong.
You can be wrong and hurtful to the people around you simply because you were ignorant and didn’t know any better at the time.
But if you do know that what you’re doing is wrong and you’re still choosing to do those wrong things, then you would be lying to yourself by trying to tell yourself that you’re a good person.
The idea that there is no standard at all for what makes a good or bad person is a little ridiculous. Not everyone is just some misguided soul who is making the wrong decisions.
Some people genuinely delight in the suffering and pain of others. These are people who use their power and strength to exploit others for their gain.
Making an effort is the critical factor. If you don’t try, you can’t and won’t succeed. It takes effort to correct these bad behaviors to avoid causing harm to oneself and others.
If you don’t work to correct whatever bad behaviors you might have, you’ll struggle to convince yourself that you are a good, but fallible person.
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How can I feel like a better person?
The foundation of feeling like a better person is action. You work to correct the bad behavior that you have and replace it with more positive choices and behavior.
Consider your impact on other people before you speak or act. Ask yourself questions like, “Is this kind?” or “Is this necessary?” and consider the answers well before taking action.
Sometimes we need to take actions that we may feel are bad for the greater good of a situation.
For example, nobody likes to be criticized, but sometimes a little constructive criticism is what we need to get things worked out and moving forward.
Criticism can be delivered with kindness by avoiding personal attacks and sticking to the facts of the situation.
Avoiding unnecessary negative actions prevents those actions from stirring up even more negativity. The less negativity you have weighing on you, the easier it is to combat the thoughts telling you that you’re a terrible person.
What if I don’t have bad behaviors but still feel like a bad person?
Then the issue might be something bigger than bringing your actions in line with how you want to feel about yourself.
You may be misinterpreting the actions of yourself and others as worse than they are, or you may be taking undue responsibility for things that are outside of your control.
Humanity is messy. Good people do bad things because they don’t always make the right decisions or think the bad thing is the best choice out of all bad options.
You may be interpreting the pain and conflict of life as badness when it’s not. Pain is pain and conflict is conflict. Neither of these things is badness or needs to be interpreted as badness.
They may not be positive, but they don’t make you a horrible person either, even if you chose to do some bad things while you were struggling with them.
Give yourself permission to grow and heal from your wounds.
Another person feeling pain or going through conflict isn’t necessarily your responsibility or emotional load to carry. It doesn’t make you bad to set and enforce boundaries to ensure that the trials of other people don’t drag you into a negative mental space.
It comes down to challenging these thoughts of being bad. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel like this makes me a bad person?”
And explore whether your actions are wrong and therefore making you feel like a bad person or if you are misinterpreting negative emotions.
If you’re misinterpreting the situation, you’ll need to find a healthier way to re-frame it in your mind. The negativity of other people is not a reflection of your character.
Is it hard to stop thinking that you’re a bad person?
Correcting your thoughts is a big challenge, but it is doable. There are a few points that need to be considered for changing the way you think about yourself.
You may need help from a certified mental health professional. For a lot of people, their negative self-perceptions are rooted in a rough childhood, life, or experiences that have colored the way they see themselves.
To heal, build self-esteem and worth, and move on from these things often requires fixing the harm that was caused by those situations. That may not be work that you can do by yourself.
It takes time. Changing the way you think about yourself and who you are as a person is not something that happens overnight. It’s a long-term commitment that you continuously need to keep working at.
It’s a process where change can be slow and incremental. You may only make small gains as you keep inching forward, closer to your goals. Be aware of that and prepare yourself for the journey.
Correcting these types of thoughts doesn’t mean they are gone forever. Impulsive thoughts are hard to change and control.
More often than not, you may find that you have an impulsive thought and you need to unpack it, get to the root of that thought, and let your emotions re-calibrate before responding to a situation.
Over time, you should have less and less of these thoughts.
It also becomes much easier to deal with the conflict and difficulties of life when you can identify what is and is not your responsibility. That makes it much easier to let go of those feelings of badness and replace them with more positive feelings of self-worth.