3 Things Jesse From "Breaking Bad" Can Teach Us About Guilt
There's no one on Breaking Bad more depressed about the consequences of his actions than Jesse Pinkman.
As the acclaimed television drama heads for the homestretch, Jesse, played by Aaron Paul, has been given his monetary share of the meth business he co-created with the master chemist and meth-cooker Walter White.
Entrepreneurs are supposed to celebrate the rewards of their hard work. However, in Jesse's case, the drug they produced has had far-reaching consequences. People with whom Jesse has been close — his first real love, as well as the son of a friend — have come to either tragic or near-tragic ends through his association with White. More directly, Jesse executed an associate who posed a threat.
Over the show's past two episodes we've seen Jesse giving the cash away arbitrarily, often as a direct result of his feelings about his actions. Literally, it's blood money, and he doesn't want it anymore.
Despite where he's at, and perhaps exactly because of where he's at, Jesse is widely regarded as the conscience of "Breaking Bad." He started out as an unlikeable druggie punk, full of bravado and anger, to whom Walter attaches himself because of the kid's knowledge of product distribution. He fits right into what I call an "anger attitude" of defensiveness.
This attitude stems from his low self-esteem. The solution for this is for him to man up, take responsibility, and do what he knows in his heart is right.
Jesse's at the point where he hasn't forgiven himself. But his guilt is eating him alive to such an extent that many fans of the show speculate he'll turn government witness against his former partner, as the only way to logically make amends for what he's done.
Of course, this is a television drama, one in which a meek high school chemistry teacher becomes a monster. But in our everyday activities — even though we don't murder people or provide them with substances that can ruin their lives — we're still often guilty of acting in ways that we would prefer not to be publicized. Behaviors such as shoplifting, cheating on exams, and calling in sick when you're healthy are just a few examples.
So, what does defensiveness entail, and how do we snap out of it?
1. The experience.
We're often unwilling to take personal responsibility for our behavior. Pride and self-righteousness can influence how we act. On the show, Jesse has gone through bouts of addiction, and he sees himself as infallible, resorting to anger to mask his low sense of self-worth.
2. The consequences.
Being a tough guy breeds feelings of terror that you might be seen as weak, wrong, or imperfect. Your self-esteem isn't healthy to begin with, and to admit an error only makes you feel more unworthy and often alienated.
3. The solution.
Do what you know in your heart of hearts that you need to do. Being specific about admitting what you did wrong helps you take personal responsibility and free yourself from the intense guilt. And it's important to acknowledge how your bad behavior affected the other person. Hearing the person you've hurt express how they were affected by your actions is also critical. You truly need to know where they're coming from. It may surprise you.
We all make mistakes. Some errors are greater than others, with far-reaching implications. Owning your mistakes is an extraordinary and necessary first step, and a good indicator of your desire to change your behavior.
It will be interesting to watch where Jesse takes his anguish. I'm rooting for Jesse and everyone else struggling to make a new start.
Want to find out more about the attitudes and emotions that dominate your character and may be sabotaging your business success or personal happiness? Take a quick self-quiz here, then try the coping strategies designed to address them.