Guilt

Guilt by Durera Toujours
Guilt by Durera Toujours

I’ve previously discussed the importance of truth. How can we expect knowledge and understanding if we distort the truth or favour stories and delusion?

There are diplomatic ways of being truthful. We need not use it like a hammer. Use the “sweet truth,” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi used to say.

A friend recently sent me an article on trust research. They found a difference between feeling guilty, being “guilt-prone,” and being guilt-free.

The article observed that people who are guilt-prone “feel more responsible for others.” “guilt-proneness… captures the anticipation of guilt over wrongdoing, [causing] people to avoid transgressing in the first place.” They see this as a positive character trait. Such a person is more trustworthy as they can be encouraged (guilted) to be so.

Those who just feel guilty have been wrong doing. “People experience guilt as a result of committing a transgression, and that emotional experience elicits reparative behaviour.” This is the more typical view of guilt. It’s also one that suggests someone is untrustworthy because they act first and feel guilt afterward.

Worse is someone who doesn’t recognize consequences and thus doesn’t feel guilt even when trampling others. “… it suggests a lack of remorse and no intention to repair your transgressions.”

However, I would also note this is essentially child psychology. It is being motivated by what we wish to avoid rather than what we’re moving towards. If you need guilt for motivation, personal integrity is not very deeply rooted yet. There are internal conflicts between what we know to be right and unresolved needs.

Certainly, there can be areas of life where we need more work. In that context, guilt can be a good inhibitor or motivator to make amends. But it’s really not a good yardstick for quality of life.

The Yoga Sutra 2:36 says: “When truthfulness is established, activity and its consequence are closely connected.” When we’re truthful within, we can recognize the consequences of our actions on ourselves and others. The value of self-responsibility becomes clear. We can make good choices in the first place rather than making amends or trying to avoid consequences.

Not that feeling guilt is bad, but it should be a red flag something is off rather than a way to run your life.

Similarly, DON Miguel Ruiz, in the first of The Four Agreements wrote:

1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

This can be a hard lesson to learn as the surrounding culture can be very much about appearances, what’s wrong, and who’s to blame. Many act to uphold appearances rather than from their internal compass. With the recent advent of “fake news” we have an even deeper call to be impeccable and favour the truth to the best of our ability.

Otherwise, we’re culturing shadow and ignorance. That’s only good for suffering.
Davidya

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22 Comments

  1. George Robinson

    GUILT = “I did wrong.” (action-based in whatever fashion);
    SHAME = “I am wrong.” (fundamentally invalid or malevolent, and the world would be better if I did not exist).

    I recall this comparison from so far back in years that I can’t trace it, yet it has stuck with me all this time. Guilt as an act of commission; shame as a fundamental flaw in constitution.

    I don’t have a point because I don’t have your vision, but if this stirs something, I’m always grateful and honored to hear.

    D, you are a treasure! Thank You.

    1. Yes, George, shame is the darker side of guilt when we take it more personally. Not just I did it but I am it. Shame is lower than fear.
      https://davidya.ca/2009/12/09/below-fear/
      .
      Many of us have had both used on us to control our behaviour, especially when young. Fear of shame is a great contractor.
      .
      What stands out for me was an event in grade school when a teacher I respected addressed me with a derogatory name. While normally I would have been shamed, I was so surprised he was disrespectful, it made me angry. I was embarrassed but the anger avoided shame.
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      For him, it was likely just a bad moment when he forgot my name and went low. But his lowering himself like that raised me up – at least in relative perception.
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      We rarely know the impact we’re having on others. 🙂

  2. Susan

    This is interesting. Someone pointed out that I mention a past relationship a lot. I agreed so knew there had to be more there. I felt into it and what came up was quilt and shame! The exclamation point because intellectually that’s not how I recall that relationship.
    I really enjoy this heart opening work. Gently dig and who knows what will be found. I feel a lot less bound to those emotions. Just by feeling!
    Thanks for putting it out there.

    1. Yes, Susan, it’s not always obvious to ourselves. The mind knows little about how we feel. But it does run stories driven by unresolved emotions. They become most obvious in the stories we keep telling others.
      .
      In noticing that, we can turn and look. Well done.
      .
      Our society places a lot of expectations on relationships. Even if the relationship was fine and your lives simply went in different directions, there can be guilt and shame about “failure.”
      .
      Those childhood prince & princess stories are lovely but Happily Ever After? Wouldn’t that get boring? (laughs)
      .
      I went through a challenging period some years ago. It later became clear it was designed to break down a really strong “provider” meme. It became obvious when I found myself trying to rescue a “damsel in distress.” Of course, an oversimplification, but that’s the nugget of it. Once I moved past that, everything started moving again.

  3. K

    And then there are some shame based societies. I feel that there was more shaming in India growing up and I suffered from a lot of shame. I suffered from guilt too. And fear as well. Ha ha! The trifecta. Anyway, getting into middle age is a great relief because those things are not so strong.

    1. Hi K
      Actually, it’s been pretty widespread. Stronger in some families and communities than others but not limited geographically.
      .
      And yes, as we mature we hopefully outgrow some of those childhood influences.
      .
      Some suggest that children help work out the parents karma. But in any case, if you consider our history over the last century, it’s no surprise that many people have guilt and shame to resolve.
      .
      Families are powerful ways to work stuff out. Often, we have long histories with family members and romantic partners. If that can be made more conscious, we can heal the wounds and finish the difficult obligations.
      .
      Relationships are a 2-way street. Ideally, we resolve at both ends. But if they’re unable, we can still heal at our end, then clear the energy connection. Then their stuff is just their stuff.
      .
      Some people have been surprised by how relationships change when we resolve our end of it. Sometimes it turns out their behaviour was being called by our unresolved junk.

  4. There was a bumper sticker which said:
    “I travel a lot. I’m on a guilt trip every day.”
    .
    We should feel guilty when we know we have done or said something which was wrong. We may regret, but should not feel guilt, about what should have done or said.
    .
    “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not just a good motto…it is also common sense.

    1. Yes, Ron, it is appropriate to feel badly about screwing up. But as we become more conscious, we make fewer such mistakes and guilt becomes rare.
      .
      Ditto for regret. Life has a way of working out for the better. Seeming disasters can turn out to have been the best thing long term.
      .
      Ironically, by “more conscious” I don’t mean higher stages but of our own internal dynamics and our relationships with others. People can reach higher stages while still pretty unconscious of their behaviour. This is why I talk about healing and so forth.
      .
      And yes, do unto others is the golden rule. 🙂

  5. Deborah

    I could write a book on the changes in my life since I decided to be completely with truth….I discovered how much I lie to myself. It’s been shocking, confusing, funny, and, a continual learning process. Truth is everything…. it seems to be the path to waking up. It certainly seems to be a way to know what is and is not real, in this moment, for this being. When I see what is true, and real, I can relax completely. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to do, because I get what is driving me.
    I could go on….

    1. Yes, I was also more than surprised by the stories running in my head and coming out of my mouth when I stopped and listened. Sometimes, they’re quite bizarre. Some weird idea we picked up when very young but still operating as a subroutine.
      .
      Happily, once we see the stories for what they are, we stop believing them and they fall away – unless there’s an unresolved emotional charge behind them. In the latter case, we can feel into the charge and resolve that.
      .
      I would say truth is the path to clarity and fullness. There has to be enough to wake up, but we can still carry some delusions post-awakening unless we do this work. If we’re doing it already, we have better quality of life and the waking up can go further too.
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      I’d also note, Truth is one of the 4 legs of dharma, that which sustains the world.
      .
      Thanks for sharing.

  6. Deborah

    Yes, austerity, cleanliness, kindness and truth. I had to look that up. I feel like the others are easier, except maybe austerity.
    Feels like truth …real truth, is hard to figure out. But, figure out we must, to create greater ease and progress.

    1. You may want to read my article on the Bull of Dharma. It talks about the 4 a little differently.
      https://davidya.ca/2018/08/30/the-bull-of-dharma/
      .
      For example, tapas means warming. It’s generally translated as austerity but there are many ways to warm and smooth the path.
      .
      The list I use is warming, purity, compassion, and truth.
      .
      One of the reasons tapas is harder to relate to is it’s the “highest” leg that is only widespread in a high age. Truth is the leg we’ve had and compassion has begun to rise.
      .
      Although we’re in a time when dharma is being challenged by the unresolved junk rising to the surface. Truth and compassion are being dismissed. That should ease in a few years.

  7. J

    David, thank you for your posts. They are often very helpful to me.
    I have guilt about something I did many years ago. The main person affected even said they forgive everything. But I still feel it, and I suppose it’s right to feel guilt for something that was hurtful to others. Possibly because I have never been honest about it to all who were affected. I don’t think talking about it at this point would be helpful for anyone though.

    1. Hi Jill
      It’s right to feel guilt until it’s remedied or resolved. If they’re complete with it, it’s just you hanging on to it. It’s no longer “right” any more than staying angry at a driver who cut you off for the rest of your life. Anger serves a purpose in the moment, but only brings pain if it’s held. Ditto guilt.

      It is only for you to resolve it. And that generally comes from accepting how you are with it and feeling into it. Once the guilt and related emotions have been fully experienced, it will resolve.
      .
      If this isn’t familiar to you, it can be much easier to start with smaller things and work up to it. Culturing gratitude, resolving what comes up in life, and so forth. Then even the big ones are straightforward.
      .
      The challenge is that if we don’t resolve it, life will bring us new ways of being reminded of it until we do.
      .
      We all screw up. If we try to carry it all, we’ll be buried alive. Life is a learning experience. If we learn, it’s worth it. If we stay in the past, not so much…
      .
      If its old, then talking about it to others may not be useful. Telling the story over and over can just make it stronger. But you may find talking it out with a therapist could help.

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