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|05-30-2002, 07:16 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Coping with Guilt-Aphrodite Matsakis, Ph.D.
What is Guilt? Guilt is an English word which originally meant debt. The New American Dictionary (1996) defines guilt as the "fact or state of having committed an offense or crime" or a "conscious violation of moral or penal law." Guilt is a very uncomfortable feeling which stems from doing something (or thinking about doing something) which goes against your personal moral standards. It also involves the fear that because you did, or thought about doing, something unacceptable, that you will be punished, rejected, or disapproved of.
In Freud’s view, guilt was pain generated by the superego or conscience in order to change a person’s behavior. One of the best definitions of guilt is offered by psychologist Dr. E. Kubany who defines guilt as a negative feeling state which is triggered by the belief that one should have thought, felt, or acted differently.
Is Guilt Old-Fashioned? As stated in the previous issue Guilt #1, pop psychology
Pop psychology would have us believe that feeling guilty is old fashioned, a relic from the past, and that by adopting the proper attitude, all guilt feelings can be made to easily disappear. This belief makes some people feel guilty for feeling guilty. In my experience as a therapist, as in my own life, I’ve found that, old-fashioned or not, guilt troubles many people and deeply so. Furthermore, guilt is often an underlying cause of procrastination, indecision, depression, anxiety, indecision, overeating, alcoholism, drug and sex addictions, and self-defeating behaviors, such as turning down job opportunities, sabotaging relationships, or cheating oneself in other ways.
Guilt Series:This newsletter is #2 in a fifteen part series on guilt. In Growing Stronger, Guile #1, the difference between rational and irrational guilt was explained. Rational guilt refers to actions, thoughts, and feelings over which you had some control; irrational guilt, to situations over which you had little control. The first step in dealing with guilt is to break it down into the various types of guilt. In this issue, we will look at infantile guilt, guilt from failing to meet social expectations, shadow guilt, religious guilt, true guilt (vs false guilt) and guilt from failing to meet social expectations. These kinds of guilt overlap, but it is still useful to try to divide up guilt into different categories because otherwise our guilt feelings will be overwhelming, and we will feel crushed by them, or we will feel overwhelmed and run from them.
|05-30-2002, 07:17 AM||#2 (permalink)|
"All upbringing is a cultivation of the sense of guilt on an intensive scale," writes Tournier ( 1977, 10 ). According to Freud (1996), guilt begins in our childhood when as infants and young children we are completely dependent on our parents and other adults for our well-being. Since our survival depends on pleasing our caretakers, when they scold or become angry with us, we fear that we will be abandoned or neglected. Along with that fundamental fear, comes guilt at not having pleased the parent or caretaker.
Freud used the term infantile guilt to describe guilt you felt as a child when you were reprimanded or rejected by your parents or other caretakers for not pleasing them. This type of guilt motivated you to change your behavior in order to avoid parental scolding or neglect. Through direct teaching as well as parental admonitions, you probably learned the morale and rules of your household and society. In Freudian terms, you internalized the parent’s or caretaker’s value system and expectations and automatically felt guilty when you violated parental or societal norms. Even when your parents or caretakers weren’t around to scold you, you probably scolded yourself for disobeying their rules. For example studies of two year olds have shown that even when their mothers were not around, they called themselves "naughty" and "bad" for having violated a household rule (Aronfreed et. al. 1971 ).
Freud coined the term superego to refer to internalized parental and societal expectations and morals. He theorized that if people developed a healthy superego, as they became older, they would not require their parents or other adults to make them feel guilty for violating a family or societal rule or moral. Their superego would remind them of their transgressions and they could make themselves feel guilty all by ourselves.
Freud further postulated that as people grew older they could transfer their infantile guilt from their parents and caretakers to other authority figures, such as teachers, clergy persons, work supervisors or superiors, political figures or others with religious, political, economical, or vocational status or power. Hence even a sixty-year old man could feel guilty about not meeting the expectations of someone in an authority position, for example, his work supervisor. Psychologically, the man feels as if his supervisor has the power not only to harm his professional standing, but to obliterate him. This fear not only of being scolded or shamed in pubic by an authority figure for not meeting a certain standard but of being annihilated by that person stems back to infancy and childhood. At that time being judged as deficient in some way could have lead to being rejected and neglected, which could have lead to death itself. On another psychological level, parental, caretaker, or teacher rejection and condemnation can severely stunt or damage a child’s self-esteem, since children rarely have sources of validation other than the adults who take care of them.
Infantile guilt involves fear of losing the esteem and love of other people (Tournier 1977, 89) and evokes a fear of physically dying or being psychologically obliterated as the result of displeasing others. An adult whose life is organized around avoiding the criticism of others, especially authority figures, can be seen as suffering from infantile guilt. In more popular terms, infantile guilt can be seen as "people-pleasing," which refers to putting aside one’s own needs and desires in order to give precedence to the needs and desires of others.
When infantile guilt, or fear of condemnation from others, guides people’s lives, they may have difficulty recognizing their own needs or talents and discovering their own convictions. On the other hand, children who fail to develop a healthy superego may need constant supervision in order not to be destructive to themselves or others and can grow up to become criminals, socio-paths, and other menaces to society.
Infantile guilt can compound survivor guilt in instances where an individual’s failure to obey or please an authority figure resulted in the death or injury of another. For example, Tyrone was raised to believe that children were supposed to obey their parents. In the military, he learned to obey commanding officers. However in one instance, Tyrone balked when his commanding officer ordered him to fire at a group of supposed enemy soldiers in the distance. Based on reliable sources, including information from other soldiers, Tyrone thought the soldiers were Americans not the enemy.
Tyrone refused to fire, only to discover the commanding officer had been right: the soldiers in the distance were indeed armed enemy troops. During the resulting firefight, some of Tyrone’s comrades were killed. Tyrone’s guilt for having stayed alive was compounded by his infantile guilt at disobeying an authority figure, his commanding officer.
|05-30-2002, 07:17 AM||#3 (permalink)|
GUILT DERIVED FROM FAILURE TO MEET PARENTAL EXPECTATIONS
Infantile guilt provides the basis for two other types of guilt, guilt at failing to meet specific parental expectations and guilt at failing to meet societal expectations.
As an adult, you may experience guilt feelings just because you fail to please an authority figure or a person who is emotionally or otherwise important to you (infantile guilt). But you might also feel guilty for not living up to the specific expectations placed upon us by your parents or caretakers. Hence if your father was a meticulous gardener and instilled in you the value of maintaining a garden of the highest quality, as an adult, you might feel guilty, when you allow the weeds to take over your garden. Somewhere in the back of your mind your father’s voice (your superego) reminds you that you have failed to complete your gardening duties.
In some cases survivor guilt can be intensified by guilt for not having lived up to certain parental dictums or expectations. For example, Mr. Chan brought his son a motorcycle for his 21st birthday. Two weeks later, his son was in a motorcycle accident that lead to nine months of hospitalization and several surgeries. Mr. Chan blames himself for his son’s pain because he bought his son the motorcycle in the first place.
However, Mr. Chan is also experiencing some infantile guilt because in purchasing his child an expensive gift like a motorcycle, he violated two of his father’s admonitions. The first admonition was against "spoiling children" by not having them earn the money to purchase their own clothes and luxuries. The second was against spending money for luxury items under almost any circumstances. Mr. Chan’s father firmly believed that every extra penny should be saved for the future and in his own life, he barely spent money on anything except necessities.
Everytime Mr. Chan went to see his son at the hospital, he could hear his father’s voice saying, "Spending money on fancy cars and toys is foolishness. See, I told you so. I warned you that it was wrong to spend money on expensive items and luxuries. If you had saved your money for the future, like I taught you to do, this would have never happened."
Camry, a military nurse, suffers from double guilt also. She was on the front lines nursing a wounded soldier when the enemy attacked again. A speeding bullet grazed her face and killed a soldier next to her. She then used the soldier’s corpse as a shield against the continued fire. To this day, decades later, she feels she should have died with the soldier ( a form of survivor guilt).
But Camry also suffers from guilt for violating her father’s repeated admonitions about respecting the dead. Her father had been a soldier during WW2. He had served under a general who insisted that his troops respect not only their own dead, but enemy dead. Soldiers under this general were harshy punished if they mutilated the bodies of the dead. Camry’s father had instilled in all his children the value of consecrating the remains of the dead. As a result, Camry feels as if she betrayed her father and all that he stood for, when she used the corpse for protection.
|05-30-2002, 07:18 AM||#4 (permalink)|
Self-Assessment for Infantile Guilt and Guilt Stemming from Failure to Meet Parental Expectations
The purpose of this writing exercise is to help you bring out into the open the kinds of moral and other messages you were given during your formative years from the people who were responsible for your well-being and held your emotional and physical health in their hands. These persons may have been parents or other caretakers, and they could have included grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other significant persons who were directly involved in taking care of you and trying to teach you "right from wrong."
Often people are not aware of why they are feeling guilty about a certain matter because they have not had the opportunity to examine early messages about how they "should" be or act or how "good" people "should be or act. This exercise will help you put into words the kind of values and actions you were expected to embody as a child. Later on, when you will be asked to describe the situation which caused you to experience survivor guilt, you will refer back to your responses to this exercise in order to see how your early leanings about guilt interact with your survivor guilt.
On a fresh piece of paper in your journal, write the heading, "Early Shoulds Messages." Think of all the "shoulds" you learned about how you ought to be during the first twelve years of your life. On your paper, draw three columns. In the first column, list as many shoulds as you can remember. Include those shoulds you heard from your parents, neighbors, friends, family members, teachers, religious instructors, and the media.
In the second column, list the source of the should -- where you learned it or who taught it to you. In the third column, describe what happened to you when you did not live up to this particular should. For example, were you verbally chastised, rejected, hit or made to feel ashamed? Were you threatened with abandonment or some other punishment?
Look over your list of "shoulds" and notice if any of the "shoulds" contradict one another. For example, suppose your mother told you should stand up for yourself and fight with bullies in school, but your grandfather told you that fighting was a sin. Or perhaps one of your caretakers gave you a double message. For instance, suppose your grandfather told you that fighting was a sin but that letting oneself get beat up was a sign of being a "sissy" and a disgrace to the family.
On a fresh piece of paper, entitled, "Shoulds Contradictions," once again draw three columns. In the first column, list as many discrepancies you found between what the various people who were important in your early life taught you about how to behave, think, or feel. In the second column, describe how you coped with the contradictory "shoulds" you heard growing up. In the third column, describe what happened to you as the result of how you coped with the contradictory shoulds.
For example, if your mother taught you to fight bullies and your grandfather taught you to turn the other cheek, perhaps you lied to your grandfather when you fought back or perhaps you lied to your mother when you walked away from fights. Another possibility is that you didn’t tell either of them how you responded to bullies and tried to carry the burden of being threatened at school all by yourself. Did you need to lie, steal, pretend, run-away, hurt yourself, or hurt animals or others as a result of the contradictory messages? If so, please describe in detail.
It is important to identify the early ways you responded to such pressures in order to see if you are still using these coping methods to deal with guilt you are experiencing today, for example, survivor guilt.
|05-30-2002, 07:19 AM||#5 (permalink)|
GUILT DERIVED FROM FAILURE TO MEET SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS
Your parents and caretakers aren’t the only source of the demands to meet certain standards. Society places pressures on people also. Regardless of how independent anyone thinks he or she might be, almost anyone can be made to feel guilty for not living up to cultural expectations their culture places upon them.
For example, many women in Western culture feel guilty about not being slender enough, even if they grew up in homes that paid no particular attention to female body size. Because the culture tends to measure the worth of a man by the size of his bankaccount, men who are unemployed or who are burdened with financial hardships tend to experience guilt for not being financially successful. Even men who grew up in homes which valued spiritual matters over the acquisition of material goods can experience some level of guilt for not living up to the cultural expectation that, as men, they should have a job, a home, a car, and plenty of money in the bank.
Parents or caretakers can make people feel guilty for not living up to societal expectations, but their friends and associates can also play a role. "In everyday life ...we are continually soaked in this unhealthy atmosphere of ... criticism" (Tournier 1977, 15). Sometimes the criticism is "keen and outspoken, sometimes silent" but it is "not less painful for being so. We are all sensitive to it, even if we conceal the fact" (Tournier 1977, 13).
Guilt derived from failing to meet societal expectations complicates survivor guilt. For example, Maureen is overweight and feels guilty about not meeting societal expectations that she be slender. When her daughter was sexually abused by her husband’s brother, Maureen experienced survivor guilt in that she wished she could have been abused in her daughter’s place. "She was a young girl who had everything to look forward too. I’m an overweight middle aged woman. If someone had to be raped, it should have been me," she sobbed in session.
Maureen’s survivor guilt was exacerbated by her guilt about her weight. Even though her eating habits and body size had nothing to do with her daughter’s molestation, in her mind, they did. Maureen confused the two guilts-- her guilt over her appearance and her survival guilt. She illogically concluded that her overeating and overweight somehow caused the rape of her daughter. She felt that if she had been thinner she might have married a different man, one who didn’t have a brother who was a child molester.
Maureen’s therapist pointed out that while it was true Maureen might have married a different man if she had been thinner, this would not have prevented her daughter from getting hurt. For example, Maureen might have married a man who was a child abuser himself or who had a nephew or father or friend who was a pedophile. Only if Maureen had witnessed her daughter being abused or in some other way had been aware that her daughter was being hurt and, instead of helping her daughter, chose to go to go food shopping or on a eating binge, then and only then could her eating problems be related to her daughter’s rape. Furthermore, Maureen needed to remember that it was not she or her overeating, but a pedophile, who had violated her daughter.
|05-30-2002, 07:19 AM||#6 (permalink)|
Self-Assessment for Guilt from Failing to Meet Societal Expectations.
What do you feel society expects of you in terms of appearance, intimate relationships, family relationships, financial status, community obligations, or political involvement?
Try to identify at least three expectations in each category. For example, under intimate relationships, one might write: "I feel society expects me to be married and to enjoy spending my leisure time with my spouse. Society expects me to be sexually faithful to my spouse and to make my spouse happy. If my spouse is unhappy and wants to leave me, society says that means that I failed."
Now review the expectations you have listed for each category and, on a separate page, describe how you feel or what you do when you feel you feel you have failed to meet these expectations.
|05-30-2002, 07:20 AM||#7 (permalink)|
CHILDHOOD OMNIPOTENT GUILT and SUPERMAN/SUPERWOMAN GUILT
Another form of guilt is childhood omnipotent guilt -- a well-documented tendency of young children to think that the world revolves around them and that they control everything that happens. Young children think that if they wish something it might come true. For example, when children become frustrated with a parent or sibling, they often think or say, I hate you -- I wish you were dead, which is a perfectly normal expression of aggression. But, if for some reason that parent or sibling subsequently becomes ill, dies or leaves the family, the child thinks that he or she caused this person to become ill, die, or leave.
This is called magical thinking, because hating one’s parent, sibling, spouse or friend, or even wishing another person dead, does not cause these people harm unless the aggressive wish is acted upon.
No matter how old or how mature we may be, a part of us -- consciously or unconsciously -- may still be engaging in magical thinking or seeing ourselves as omnipotent. When someone we know commits suicide, the child in us may feel that our hostility killed that person because we sometimes harbored hostile feelings toward him or her.
But hating people doesn’t kill them or make them sick. Our angry, hateful feelings and wishes in themselves cannot cause the physical death, suicide, illness or injury of another, with one important exception: if you severely or continually maltreated someone, and then that person committed suicide or acquired an illness or injury directly related to your treatment, some of your guilt may be appropriate. If not, some of the guilt you are experiencing may fall into the category of childhood omnipotent guilt.
In adolescence and adulthood, childhood omnipotent guilt can be transformed into a type of guilt called "superman or superwoman" guilt. In order to cope with a traumatic or extremely stressful situation, people can come to believe that have superhuman qualities. The more helpless and powerless people feel in a life or death situation, the greater the need for superhuman powers. One theory (Krystal 1971) is that during traumatic conditions, people tend to revert to childlike thinking, including the tendency towards childhood omnipotent guilt.
Kubany (1994) , Opp and Samon (1989), Parson (1986) and others have found that survivors of traumatic circumstances often experience guilt and feelings of failure for not knowing what no human being could have known and for not having abilities that are beyond human capability. Examples are medical staff who feel guity for not being able to save everyone, parents who feel guilty for not being able to protect their children from all illnesses and harm, soldiers who feel guilty for not having forseen all enemy assaults, and relatives of seriously ill persons who feel guilty for not knowing the outcome of certain medical procedures.
If you suffer from superman/superwoman guilt, then you are telling yourself, "‘I’m in charge of all the variables for lie and death’ and "I knew things would happen before they did.’" (Opp and Samson 1989 p. 162).
|05-30-2002, 07:21 AM||#8 (permalink)|
Self-assessment for Childhood Omnipotent Guilt
1. Have you ever wished or desired the injury, illness, mistreatment or death of a friend or relative? List five instances where you made such wishes.
2. Did harm come to any of the five persons you wished to be harmed?
3. If harm did come to them, explain how your wishing the harm caused it to happen. Assume you are presenting the case to a jury of reasonable adults. What evidence could you present that would indicate that your wishing caused each of these individuals to be injured or die?
4. If you hadn’t of wished harm on another, what is the probability that he or she might have come to harm any way or some other time?
5. Have you ever wished for positive things to happen to others? List five examples of times you have wished for others to enjoy life, good health, prosperity, or other forms of well-being or happiness. In which of these instances do you feel your wishing made these positive results occur? If you were presenting a case to a jury of reasonable adults, what evidence could you present that would indicate that a your wishing caused each of these persons to have an improved life?
6. Write three or four sentences about how childhood omnipotent guilt or superwoman/superman guilt has caused you to feel responsible for events by ascribing magical powers to yourself.
|05-30-2002, 07:21 AM||#9 (permalink)|
Sin and guilt are the themes of many major religions. Many of us have been taught to feel guilty when we fail to adhere to the tenants of our faith or to expected forms of worship. Furthermore, some faiths, for example, Christianity and Judaism, espouse the notions of original sin and man’s inherent guilt. According to Christian beliefs, all people are born evil, and are therefore guilty, unless they are redeemed through the faith.
Religious guilt is frequently present with survivor guilt. For example, it is not uncommon for soldiers to experience guilt about violating the religious code of "thou shalt not kill" by being warriors. Some domestic violence survivors, such as battered women and physically or sexually abused children, are coerced into committing cruel or sadistic acts towards other; into lying, stealing, or committing certain sexual acts (including prostitution); or into killing animals or people, as in cult abuse. People who are victimized in these ways can suffer from severe religious guilt, which is often at the core of their content survivor guilt.
In some cases, persons who have lost a loved one to suicide or homicide attribute the death of this loved one to their having violated a tenant of their faith. For example, Randy still suffers from survivor guilt over the suicide of his daughter some fifteen years ago. However his survivor guilt is compounded by his religious guilt for having an adulterous affair during his marriage. On some level, he feels that the death of his son is divine "payback" for violation of his marriage vows. Another example is Esther, whose teenage son was killed by a mugger. When Esther is honest with herself, she feels the mugging was a form of punishment for leaving the religion of her childhood and converting to another faith.
Another type of religious guilt is almost the exact opposite of the religious guilt described above. This guilt involves rejecting your previous religious and spiritual beliefs and traditions. Hence family members of children who have died as the result of illness, murder or suicide may have stopped believing in their God because their prayers for their child were not answered. People trapped in natural disasters, such as fires or floods, and persons trapped in man-made disasters, such as violent or abusive homes, may abandon their religious beliefs when the God of their understanding does not provide them the help and rescue that they need.
However, there can be guilt in abandoning or rejecting one’s former religious or spiritual beliefs, especially if family members or significant others are critical of this change. Hence persons of a particular faith who come to reject the tenants of their faith as the result of a severe trauma or stress may feel guilty about not being able to truly believe what they used to believe or not being able or willing to attend services as they used to.
|05-30-2002, 07:22 AM||#10 (permalink)|
Exercise: Self-Assessment for Religious Guilt
The purpose of this exercise is to help you identify and understand your religious values. If you are a member of an organized religion, some of these values are available in written form or you may hear them articulated when you attend meetings of your religious group. Some of you may not be a member of an organized religious group, however you may have been raised in a certain religion, and even though you no longer formally adhere to that religion, some of the values may still be important to you or may still influence you. It is often the case that even though certain religious values have been rejected, they become part of the psyche, especially if others who are important to you still adhere to those values.
Some of you may have changed faiths or adopted spiritual values that are not unique to or particularly identified with any religious group. Regardless of the origin of your religious or spiritual values, it is important to be aware of these values because they can form the basis of guilt when you transgress those values.
Open up your journal and on a fresh piece of paper, write the heading "My Religious/Spiritual Values" at the top of the page. Then answer the following questions:
If you belonged to an organized religion as a child, what values were you taught? How did that religion define "right" and "wrong" or "good" and "evil"? You may need several pages to answer this question, or you may simply make a list the values of your religion.
Looking back over what you have written, ask yourself which of those values you truly believed in? All of them, some of them, none of them?
Were you ever scolded or chastised for not obeying one of the rules of the religion or for violating one of the religion’s codes? What values or codes did you violate? At the time, how did you feel about being chastised? Did you feel guilty, or not? If you felt guilty, how guilty did you feel? Just a twinge of guilt? A moderate amount of guilt? Profound guilt?
Were you conflicted about your guilt? In other words, did a part of you feel guilty but another part of you feel justified or not guilty at all?
What happened when you felt guilty? Did your mood change? Did your attitude towards yourself or others change? Did your lifestyle or daily habits change? Did you become angrier or more destructive to yourself or others? Did the guilt result in any changes which you today, in retrospect, see as positive?
At the time, were you given means to make amends for your errors, were you punished in some manner, or both? How did you feel about being punished or making amends at the time?
How do you feel about being scolded or punished today, years later? If your religion provided a means of atonement, what is your opinion about the methods of your faith today? Did punishments or means of atonement help relieve any guilt you were experiencing in the past? Did the feeling of relief carry into the present?
If you have changed religions or adopted a different spiritual approach to life, what would you say are the values of your new spirituality or religious outlook? How do you feel when you violate one of these values? Is it part of your current spiritual or religious program to punish yourself in some way or make amends in some manner? If so, please describe in detail.
As the result of the stresses or traumas you have experienced, have you come to doubt some of the tenants of your faith and perhaps rejected your faith altogether? If this is the case, do you feel guilty about having moved away from your original faith? Write two or three sentences about any such feelings of guilt.
Do your close friends or family members accept your change in beliefs or withdrawal from your original faith? How does their response to your change affect your sense of guilt?
|05-30-2002, 07:23 AM||#11 (permalink)|
GUILT OF BEING V.S. GUILT OF DOING
Guilt can arise from violating a religious taboo or not living up to a moral code espoused by one’s religion of choice, regardless of the particular religion. This type of guilt is called the guilt of doing. However some religions, for example those in the Judeo-Christian tradition, also foster another kind of guilt: the guilt of being.
The guilt of doing involves the sense that you can not live up to a certain religious or spiritual ideal because of something you did wrong or something you failed to do right. In contrast, the guilt of being refers to the sense that you can not live up to your religious and spiritual beliefs because of what you are -- a vulnerable, frail, and according to some faiths, by nature, a sinful human being.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the guilt of being derives from the notion of original sin. In other religions, for example, Islam, there is no parallel to the idea of original sin (Swanson 1995). While guilt of being can originate from religious ideas about the inherent sinfulness of being human, it can also arise from being the emotional scapegoat in a family or group. White supremacists make African-Americans, Asians, and other non-white people the scapegoats for their internal ills and problems in the world which they feel powerless to remake according to their own desires. Most hate-groups, regardless of who they hate, think that if they only eliminate a certain kind of person, then they will feel happy and peaceful inside and the world will be put in good order.
Hate groups blame their problems on the sheer existence of people of a different color, national origin, religion or sexual orientation. The guilt of the people who are different than one’s self is the guilt of being alive. This is the guilt of being.
For example, it doesn’t matter to a white supremacist what an African-American does or feels. He or she could be a brilliant doctor or a street thug. It’s all the same to the white supremacists because, in the extremist mind, the African-American is a criminal that needs to be punished if not obliterated because he or she exists. Of course, if the African-American commits a crime or makes a mistake or somehow fails in being a modern day saint, then that adds fuel to the fire. But it isn’t the cause of the fire.
In families, the same process of scapegoating can occur. Usually one child or family member is selected. However in some families, more than one person can be placed in the role of scapegoat. There can be so much emotional and verbal abuse of the family scapegoats, that they can easily begin to feel they should have never been born. This sense of guilt at being is even greater if those who are being emotionally scapegoated are also being physically or sexually abused.
Family scapegoat who become the objects of frequent or ongoing verbal or other forms of abuse need to develop coping strategies to survive, some of which may be dysfunctional. For example, abused persons with little support and no way out may start to drink, use drugs, overeat, lie, steal, or they have memory problems and make frequent mistakes. These behaviors then become the object of criticism by the other family members and the scapegoated person may criticize himself or herself as well. The self-criticisms and the criticisms of others lead to guilt of doing, which only reinforces the scapegoat’s fundamental feeling of guilt of being.
Another important factor in such situations is the humiliation involved in being the recipient of verbal, physical or sexual abuse. The awareness that one is being used and that others have power over one’s body, emotions, thoughts erodes the integrity, which can make one feel like a thing, not a person. This vulnerability to the verbal and other forms of attack to others can create a sense of powerlessness and worthlessness that can lead to a sense that one does not deserve to live and a feeling of guilt at simply being alive.
One woman writes: "I’ve been criticized from the day I was born. My mother told me she was ashamed to have such an ugly child. My dad wasn’t happy with me either. I felt I shouldn’t have been born and never existed. I felt guilty for being alive -- for breathing, eating, sleeping, having fun, working, anything. Even today I can feel guilty about anything I do, even going to church or doing good deeds, because I feel like I shouldn’t have been born.
"To try to steal a little peace and happiness, I lied a lot about what I did and where I went. I stole money too, to feed my addiction. Of course the family caught me lying, stealing, and drinking, which only gave them more cause to hate me and criticize me. I couldn’t argue with them because, of course, it was wrong to do those things. But even if I never told another lie and was the holiest person in the world, I would still be guilty in their eyes -- guilty for being me or for just being."
" I’ve cleaned up my act somewhat. No more drinking, stealing, lying. But I slip sometimes, and when I do, I’m scared that doing just one little wrong thing will cause my family to reject me. Then I’ll be outcast. It’s like they are all watching me, waiting for me to make a mistake. I know I’m exagerrating the feeling of being watched, but it’s also true that they look, and judge me, more than they do others. I’m not imagining that they are looking and judging. They are. And they only see the bad, not the good. I can feel the negative energy coming towards me and it destroys me. I don’t even have the energy to fight back. I shrivel up. Then that makes me feel guilty for taking up room on the world, guilty for just being alive."
This woman also suffers from content survivor guilt, which is described in Chapter .
|05-30-2002, 07:24 AM||#12 (permalink)|
Self-Assessment for Guilt of Being
Use a fresh sheet in your journal and write "Guilt of Being" as the heading. Answer the following questions in your journal as completely as possible.
Have you ever feel guilty not for any particularly characteristic you have or for something you have done (or not done) but simply for being alive?
Describe the circumstances where you first began experiencing guilt of being in detail, being careful to remember pressures or stresses imposed by others. For example, when was the first time you had this feeling? Did the idea come from within you or from somewhere outside of yourself, for example, an organization, a book, a media presentation, or another person?
Did anyone ever tell you didn’t deserve to be alive? Who? How often did that person invalidate your existence? Did you believe that person? If so, did you believe that person entirely or only partially? Did that person harm you in other ways, emotionally, physically, financially, or socially?
Did your guilt for being begin as part of a trauma or was it made stronger by being involved in a life-threatening experience? If you had never been involved in this trauma, do you think you’d feel guilty about being alive? If so, why? Did this feeling of guilt for being part of the teaching of a religious or spiritual group with which you were, or are, affiliated?
|05-30-2002, 07:24 AM||#13 (permalink)|
Related to religious guilt, but somewhat different, is shadow guilt. According to psychologist Carl Jung, the human personality has many parts. One part of our personality -- the person we present to the world -- is called "the persona." The person has learned socially acceptable traits and knows how to modify certain instincts and desires in order to fit into society and not be punished for breaking societal rules.
Another part of the personality, however, is called the shadow. The shadow is the reservoir of many of our desires and feelings that we, or society, feel are unacceptable. Hence the shadow contains our lust, greed, vanity, aggressiveness, pettiness, selfishness, capacity for violence and evil and all those parts of that are "bad" and should definitely not be acted upon. Also contained in the shadow are qualities that are not considered "evil" but are socially undesirable, for example, vulnerability and emotionality in men and aggressiveness in women.
Some people are relatively unaware of their shadow. They don’t even know it exists. If you ask the average person if he or she has ever lied, cheated, wanted to kill someone, or lusted for someone who was not their mate, most likely that person would say "no." That might not be the actual truth, but to that person, most of the time, it is the truth because he or she is not aware of his or her shadow. It is too horrible to contemplate. The idea of being murderous or lustful is so unacceptable, the shadow is suppressed out of awareness.
However, according to Tournier (1977), even though our shadow is usually repressed and even if we do not act on the impulses and desires in the shadow, we are aware that we have secret desires and temptations which we, or others, judge to be immoral. Our awareness of our shadow, however vague, unclear or confused, breeds a sense of guilt. "In an existential sense....man feels guilt with regard to himself... because there are within him obscure forces, impulses, and inhibitions which neither his will nor his intelligence or his knowledge can master" (Tournier 1977, 48).
In addition, no matter how much we suppress our shadows, the primitive urges and feelings contained in it continue to emerge. They are very powerful.
One way to handle the shadow is to deny it exists, but to satisfy it by watching other people act as if motivated by their shadow. That’s one reason why movies with lots of sex, killing and other socially unacceptable behavior are so popular -- people release their shadow urges by watching others act out those urges.
The average person wouldn’t dream of robbing a bank, plotting a financial swindle, killing, raping, or wishing someone in their family dead. But people spend time and money to watch television programs and movies where such things are commonplace. In other words, one way to handle the shadow is to allow it to live vicariously through reading books or watching dramas where people act in ways we wouldn’t dare for fear of being condemned by society. Another way is to admire people who act out or who are thought to act out their shadow. For example, a recent study concluded that voters "secretly" want presidents and elected officials to be adulterous and have sexual escapes (Morin 1998).
However, people who have been in stressful life circumstances leading to the death, injury, or debasement of others have often encountered the shadow not in movies or in distant political figures, but in real life. They may have seen people act out their shadows and may have been in situations where they were forced to act out their shadow or where their shadow urges were activated.
Anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault, war or other forms of violence has seen people who are acting out shadow urges. Anyone who has been exposed to injustices based on prejudice due to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability and anyone who has grown up in a home where there is emotional or other types or where one or more family members suffer from an alcohol, drug, or food addiction has seen people whose shadow selves are damaging not only their own lives, but the lives of others. Those who have been forced to abuse another person, lie, steal, or cheat or go against their own moral standards in order to save their own lives or the lives of others were forced to act out parts of their shadow.
Even if you were not forced to betray your values during your stressful experiences, if you have ever felt vengeful or murderous towards those who hurt you or someone you loved, you have met your shadow. Having self-destructive thoughts is also a part of the shadow personality and persons coping with survivor guilt frequently have thoughts of suicide, self-mutilation, and self-abasement.
To go through a stressful life event and not encounter the shadow in oneself or another person is impossible. In fact, it is encountering the shadow in others and oneself that makes these types of life situations so stressful, if not traumatizing. Your experience has taught you the capacity of others for evil, deceit, or negligence. You have seen these qualities in others and, in one way or another, whether you have had to act on them or not, you may have seen them in yourself. If you are the survivor of a man-made trauma, you are probably acutely aware of the possibility of human evil. However, even those of you who have suffered as the result of the expected loss or illness of a love one, an unjust personal or job-related situation, or an act of nature may have been exposed to human error and malice.
Even if you have never acted on a shadow impulse, you may experience shadow guilt because when you are honest with yourself, you realize that no matter how hard you try you can not eliminate the shadow part from your being and because you sense that the shadow, although repressed, has the potential to erupt and cause havoc in our lives. The fantasies and desires of our shadow, whether they be of sloth, murder, greed, lust, or self-aggrandizement, "defy the censorship of our will. It is another self which is in us, which we cannot stifle, and which we fear will be discovered" (Tournier 1977, 47-48).
|05-30-2002, 07:25 AM||#14 (permalink)|
Self-Assessment for Shadow Guilt
On a fresh piece of paper in your journal, enter the heading "Shadow Guilt" and answer the following questions to the best of your ability. Since shadow guilt is related to religious guilt, some of your answers to the following questions may be similar to those for the questions on religious guilt.
1. Have you ever lusted for or had sexual fantasies about someone whom you were told you should not desire sexually?
2. Have you wanted more than your share of money, food, recognition, power, or some other commodity?
3. Have you ever wanted to act selfishly and think only of yourself?
4. Have you ever stolen anything or wanted to steal something?
5. Have you ever been petty or manipulative or thought about being petty or conniving?
6. Have you ever injured or killed or thought about injuring or killing another living being?
7. Have you ever injured or killed another living being and enjoyed the sense of power involved or fantasized about how enjoyable killing and maiming might be
8. Have you felt like lying or told a lie?
9. Have you ever thought about cutting or mutilating yourself or about killing yourself?
10. Have you ever injured yourself physically or attempted suicide?
Look over your responses to these questions, then answer the following question: Have you or do you feel guilty for answering "yes" to any of the questions above. Write two or three sentences about your experience of guilt for each of the questions you answered "yes" to above.
|05-30-2002, 07:26 AM||#15 (permalink)|
TRUE GUILT v.s.. FALSE GUILT
Infantile guilt, religious guilt, and the guilt resulting from failing to meet parental or societal expectations result from not measuring up to the expectations set by others. Psychologist Carl Jung and psychiatrist Paul Tournier (Tournier 1977) contrast these types of guilt, which label they label false guilt, with true guilt, or not meeting standards you have set for yourself. True guilt involves letting ourselves down, whether in the form of not taking care of ourselves, not developing our talents, allowing others to mistreat us, or not pursuing our personal dreams. False guilt derives from "fear of social judgement and the disapproval" of others ( Tournier 1977, 69), but true guilt derives from not being faithful to ourselves.
For example, Toni’s husband insisted that she have her tubes tied when she was twenty-one years old. They already had two children. He didn’t want any more children, but she did and she wanted to retain the capacity to have children. When she suggested a vasectomy, her husband refused. He pressured her until she relented. "I didn’t want to do it. I felt I was too young to get my tubes tied. But my husband made me feel guilty about not doing what he wanted. I went along because I wanted to be a good wife," explains Toni.
"Today I feel guilt towards myself for doing what he wanted instead of what was important to me. We separated soon after I got my tubes tied and many of the men I met wanted to marry a woman who could have a family. Of course, I couldn’t have any more children, so it was hard for me to find a new life-partner. But even if I had remained married to my ex-husband, I would still be mad at myself today for not sticking up for what I wanted."
Men as well as women can be pressured by a significant other into actions they do not want to take. Bill, for example, had a vasectomy at his wife’s insistence. "I didn’t want that vasectomy, but thought I’d feel too guilty if I didn’t do what she wanted. What’s worse, I gave into her on other important issues too. Maybe they weren’t important to her, but they were to me. I believe compromise is necessary for a good marriage, but I was doing all the compromising. Sure I’m still married, but I lost my self-respect."
Bill and Toni feared the guilt involved in disappointing someone they loved and quite possibly, of incurring their spouse’s anger and rejection. In this respect, they were guided by false guilt when they acquiesced to their spouses demands. However today they feel the pangs of true guilt, a guilt based on not acting on their true convictions and not standing up for themselves.
True guilt is widespread for few people are always faithful to themselves. In fact, true guilt can be as repressed as our shadow or other anti-social impulses, because to acknowledge the ways in which we have let ourselves down can be excruciatingly painful. When we are true to our inner callings and personal convictions we run the risk of being criticized or even ostracized by others. In some cases, being true to ourselves can cost us our lives or the lives of those whom we love. On the other hand, to not be ourselves and to not actualize our dreams has another penalty: the horror letting oneself be "paralyzed by fear, fashioned by environment, petrified by routine...[or], sterilized by conformity" and permitting oneself to simply copy others instead of being and developing oneself (Tournier 1977, 55).
True guilt has sometimes been called authentic guilt or guilt which arises from your own standards rather than guilt which arises from someone else’s standards. Yet some people find themselves in situations where there is massive pressure to abandon their own beliefs and conform to others. The resulting spiritual or moral guilt is a major cause of survivor guilt, depression, and a host of other trauma-related disorders. This topic will be explored more fully in Chapter 4: Content Survivor Guilt.
|05-30-2002, 07:26 AM||#16 (permalink)|
Self-Assessment for True Guilt
On a fresh piece of paper, write the heading "True Guilt v.s. False Guilt." Try to write three or four sentences in response to the following questions. Be as honest as you can be. Remember nobody needs to see your responses but you.
The following exercise on true guilt v.s.. false guilt may be very difficult to complete. In many ways, true guilt is perhaps one of the most painful types of guilt you can experience because it doesn’t involve others betraying you: it involves you betraying yourself. However, keep in mind that few people are free enough from economic necessity, family obligations, and social pressure to be true to themselves all the time. It is entirely normal to give in to pressures to act a certain way rather than follow the desires of your heart or conscience.
Think of at least three instances where you gave in to pressures outside of yourself and acted against your own self-interest, your own development, or your own moral values? Write at least seven or eight sentences describing these instances in detail. Pay special attention to the kinds of pressures being placed upon you by others or by circumstances. Be sure to include one or two sentences describing how you reacted to your decision to give in to these pressures. For example, did you punish yourself in some way? Did you try to harm those who pressured you in some way and then feel guilty about that? Did you try to put the incident out of your mind?
In your present day life, are you currently acting against your values or your own growth? How is any guilt you are experiencing about your behavior affecting your self-esteem, your emotional health, your physical health, your personal relationships, your family life, or your career? Write two or three sentences about each aspect of your life which is affected by your true guilt.
Looking over your answers to the questions above and comparing them with your answers to the "Shoulds" exercise earlier in this chapter, do you see any similarities in how you respond to feelings of guilt? Can you list at least three ways your response to guilt today is similar to your responses as a child or young adult? Can you list at least three ways your responses to guilt today are different from your responses as a child or young adult?
|05-29-2003, 07:38 AM||#18 (permalink)|
Big kitty nose hugs
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Center of The World
Thanks again for another god sent post!!
I bought a new ink cartridge for my printer yesterday and my folder is almost 2inches thick now!!!
Love in spirit
Love In Spirit,
Where my heart is.......
"Never Give In, Never Give In, Never Give In,
Never, Never, Never."
~~Sir Winston Churchill~~
|06-07-2003, 04:03 PM||#19 (permalink)|
Big kitty nose hugs
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Center of The World
Trying to bring this to the top!!!
Love In Spirit,
Where my heart is.......
"Never Give In, Never Give In, Never Give In,
Never, Never, Never."
~~Sir Winston Churchill~~
|06-12-2003, 02:55 PM||#20 (permalink)|
~Author of My Life~
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Doing what I thought I couldn't....
I don't talk about this much, but have been thinking I may find some relief if I search out some info on and admit to it really bothering me, The two babies I lost to miscarriage-everyone says I shouldn't feel bad about it, it was God's doing for whatever reason, etc, but I always have this vague sense that they are missing, like for instance when getting ready to send the kids to school and they're out the door, I sense two kids that are missing, and sometimes I panic a little, and then the grief sets in but I have been told so often it is not a big deal I feel guilty for grieving them. Do you know of a good website that deals with this? Am I overeacting or just not fully grieving through the whole process because I feel guilty for feeling guilty? Sorry if I have confused you but I am trying to get all this stuff out sooner than later now that I have found this site. Thanks for listening MG and I hope you are doing okay today.
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