Conscience is the voice of the soul.

~ Polish Proverb ~

Gilt-Edged Guilt

November 18th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 18 secs

Shame on you... again!

Shame on you… again!

Mention the word “guilt” and you immediately know what it means.  Which is kind of funny really, given it comes in different types.

Consider the self-imposed shame that goes well beyond what was enforced upon you by others. That’s the deep, self-flagellating kind, which only leaves you feeling justified once you’ve made yourself feel worse.

Then there’s the sort that you ought to feel because others expect it of you. Like when you take the last cake, laugh too loudly, or wear what others distinctly disapprove of.  Though you might look shamefaced, it’s equally likely you’ll be shrugging it off the moment you and Elvis decide to leave the building.

Not so the moralizing kind that declares in your head that you’re a deadbeat loser for what you’ve done (and that’s when it’s being complimentary).

It’s probably related to guilt that’s not tied to anything in particular, which some Catholic and Jewish people spend a lifetime lamenting. Being free floating and amorphous, it goes with you, ready to lay blame upon you whatever you choose. Why are some people more vulnerable to this? Well it might have something to do with being contrite as a personal value. Meaning, “sorry” ends up their personal mantra.

After pleading our innocence (because deep down we never meant to harm anyone), there is the guilt built on genuine remorse for significant wrong (and, no, we’re not talking about dropping buttons into the offering plate). If, say, you happen to steal someone’s winning lottery ticket and feed it to your dog, society will say you should feel terrible. Not only have you ruined the rightful winner’s victory but you’ve also given your poor pooch an unhealthy dose of cellulose.

As a rule of thumb, festering guilt that goes nowhere is unhelpful.

Better to see it convert into worthy deeds of penitence than perpetual breast-beating. So, telling yourself that you must be a lady of perpetual misery is not the answer. Rather, guilt is merely one step in the process of dealing with your feelings.

In the grand scheme of things, guilt gets its emotional force from grief. Sensing loss that comes via realizing we have done something wrong becomes the catalyst for acute sensations of loss and shame.

Yet, guilt about the way we look, or our performance is often maladaptive because it blends our identity with feelings of failure, proving that our identity, rather than our deeds are to blame.

That’s why I encourage you to separate your self from your actions. True, you shouldn’t have pushed your little brother’s face in the glue, but you were only four at the time. So maybe it’s time you let that one go.

Blame yourself for your misdeeds, but do it wisely. Convert your angst into positive action and turn a bad thing into something lovely. Use your various guilt-ridden thoughts to generate beautiful ideas about how to help others. That way, you will mop up both vague and specific shame and harness their energy to generate deeds that you consider worthy.

So whether you stole the last slice of cake or robbed a bank, it’s time to turn your commensurate guilt into action and give something back.

Happy: Heaven Or Hassle?

Hands Up If You Want To Quit Motherhood?

Fat… Guilty Or Innocent?


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