What’s guilt got to do with it? Everything and nothing. I remember reading long ago that there is but two emotions, love and fear. But I am left wondering where does guilt fall in the mix? (Though, I can guess where it falls, since it is not near “love”. But I’ll get back to that later.)
I want to know more about the phenomena of guilt because the people who come to talk to me everyday are constantly up against its devastating ways. And, it is not only them! It is also most of my friends and family members. Even yours truly is not immune to guilt’s “dis”-ease. And from what I have noticed so far, guilt has us taking actions that are often frustrating, usually hurtful, and sometimes self-destructive. Are we ALL walking around with guilt? But, why? I mean, do we want to be frustrated, hurtful and self destructive? If not, I ask again: Why?
So, what is guilt? That is a hard question to answer since guilt has as many definitions as people who feel it. People make meaning around guilt a myriad of different ways. And they respond to it in just as many ways. For me, guilt is a fear. It is a fear that I am someone who I don’t want to be. I am less than perfect. Either because what I think I did or how I think someone else thinks of me.
For me, it is not necessarily about ethics or right and wrong or about sinning: It is how I view myself as a self. Am I less than perfect? I am literally judging myself*** to be less than perfect. Another way to look at it is that I don’t trust myself or that I am separated from my spirit. (But this can also be a definition of fear.)
Reactions to Guilt
Anyway, I have been studying lately how people have been reacting to guilt. These are some of the ways I have uncovered: Hating oneself, hating one’s body, having an eating disorder, blaming self for things one didn’t do (i.e., getting abused), accusing others of something, judging others, having obsessions and or compulsions, feeling depressed and or anxious, feeling spiritually disconnected or unworthy, feeling generally unworthy, feeling like a victim, acting like a victim, being irritable, being angry, acting violently, feeling like no one wants them or loves them, overeating, self punishment, self harm and wanting to kill oneself.
I want to go into each of these and give examples so that they can be recognized quickly when it is present. Guilt likes to hide behind other problems, so it is sometimes hard to recognize. My hope is that when it is recognized two things can be done. The first is to find out what is held precious that is in the shadows of guilt and two, hold on to that preciousness and realize that guilt by my definition is never helpful nor is it ever the “truth”. Once we know this is false, we don’t have to carry it anymore.