We all hate it, and it can cling to us no matter what we do.
Why is that?
Where Does Guilt Come From?
I think guilt is interesting in a way. None of us are born with it, and yet it is like a plague of emotional contamination in our lives. Many of us are taught to feel guilty from a young age. I know I certainly was.
So why do we need it? Do we need it? If we do not think we need it, why would someone else think we do?
Guilt is taught to children probably because of the belief that humans are intrinsically “bad” and need guilt to prevent them from being destructive. Given the many studies and anecdotal experience which demonstrates the natural empathy of humans, isn’t it strange that we think we need an emotional mechanism to control people?
Are People Intrinsically Bad?
The idea that people are intrinsically bad has been around for a long time. Many religions, including my inherited one, promote the idea of original sin, an assumed badness that must be trained out of the individual. Unfortunately, a defined idea of goodness and badness is irrelevant in reality and serves to create order not goodness. How deceptive!
In a simplistic way, if we look at the traditional definitions of a “good” man we are offered: strong, in control, provider, unemotional, rational. These are soldier characteristics. Soldiers are meant to maintain order. A traditionally “good” woman is self-sacrificing, modest, family oriented. A woman who supports others in particular men who keep the order in society.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these characteristics. That is the problem. They can be useful, but so can others. They keep the order in society at the expense of our development into whole, intentional and compassionate human beings.
The Dirty Secret Of Guilt
Guilt has a dirty secret. When we try to make someone else feel guilty we are really making them responsible for us, and our feelings. At a group level, that means that we make some people responsible for the feelings of others. This dynamic is the basis of oppression and discrimination.
Such guilt-based expectation means that others have to be a certain way for us to feel safe. It is a preemptive strategy that denies someone else their becoming and takes their life force to meet our needs. It is a way to operate as an emotional vampire without being honest about it. All in the name of safety.
The High Cost Of Guilt-Based Stereotypes
Stereotypes result in dependency. Traditionally, men are responsible for “thinking” and women for “feeling”. What a mess that has created!
More importantly, we give up important parts of ourselves when we submit to stereotypes. Thinking and feeling are not really separate parts of ourselves. They inform each other or should. When we split off parts of ourselves we lose our resilience and effectiveness. Then we really lose our goodness.
Maintaining order has been a primary goal of social organization for thousands of years. Many consider it necessary for our survival. I am certain that at some time it was. However, we have to wonder whether or not so much effort needs to be expended by various groups trying to impose their version of order on others.
Do we need to cripple people with guilt to keep them docile and quiet? Do we need to cripple people with burdensome identities that prevent them from developing their true Selves? Do we need to cripple people with fear of each other so that we can maintain the investment of outworn structures? Do we need to make people afraid of parts of themselves so that they fear introspection? Do we need to maintain false certainties to promote self-doubt in the thinkers and questioners in our societies?
A False Bargain
When we submit to guilt-induced ideas about right and wrong, we are abdicating the stewardship of our well being and even our souls. We are allowing that approval is the same thing as happiness and then wonder why we cannot understand what is missing.
What is missing is us, our authentic selves. When we give up guilt, we invite our authentic self to emerge.
I think that is a fabulous deal.
Photo by Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash