Guilt, Self Sabotage, and Taking Out The Garbage
This is a bit of writing about bad habits. At least that is what I think I am going to write about.
I was raised a Catholic. Seems Catholic are famous for, among other things, guilt. Catholics are good about feeling guilty. As I look back, I realized I was told about a whole bunch of rules. There were so many rules, there was no way I could live and not break quite a few of those rules. I guess the idea is then I would feel guilty for not following all the rules. Then I would have to go to church to pray for forgiveness, and take communion, to be purified and ready for a new week. That didn’t work for me, so I just stopped being a Catholic at the age of 30. It still seems like a rigged system.
Guilt appears to result from something that we judge as “bad” happening. I put bad in quotation marks, because calling something “bad” is a judgment, and not a statement of fact. This is an important point. The same applies to a judgment we call “good.” It is not a statement of fact, but rather a self-imposed judgment, or a label we apply, to an event, a thing, or a person.
During our Bridge events, we do a process called the Yellow and Blue Process. It is really simple. On a yellow piece of paper, we write down the three things that we did that causes us the most shame. On the blue piece of paper, we write down the three things that were done to us, that cause us the most shame. We then share these items with the group. It is remarkable how much stuff we carry around, for a lifetime, without sharing it and/or releasing it. I have seen men trembling with fear and embarrassment while sharing the most innocent of experiences. It appears much of this shameful stuff happens just around 6th grade! Just the speaking of the incidents is such a relief. Being heard and understanding that we are not alone, and that we are still loved even after admitting to such things, is purely and positively transformational. We do this process during our first morning together, so you can imagine how amazing the remaining three days are with all that energy freed up. Wowzer.
This raises the question about the difference between shame and guilt. Here is what Wikipedia says:
“The location of the dividing line between the concepts of shame, guilt, and embarrassment is not fully standardized. Psychoanalyst Helen B. Lewis argued that, “The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative evaluation, but rather the thing done is the focus.” Similarly, Fossum and Mason say in their book Facing Shame that “While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person.”
From this I now understand that guilt is a judgment about actions we have or haven’t taken, and shame is a judgment about you and me as people. Either way, the point I want to make is that both are judgments, self-imposed judgments, which cause us sadness and misery, and zaps us of our life force. These judgments then impact how we live our life, and create a filter through which we see and experience who we are and how we respond to everyday opportunities.
I know people, lots of people, who have shared in circles that I have been a part of. These are beautiful people, people who would not harm anyone or anything, people who truly care about other people. Still, something happened, something bad, something unforeseen, something that they carry around like a battle scar, something that shadows how they live. No intentional damage. Not anything like “I set out to do harm.” No, just something happened, and from that point on, these beautiful people feel guilty.
“What is seen as right and normal by society is seen as immature
distortion by a free mind.” Vernon Howard
All this guilt seems to be a result of social conditioning, whether it is from religions, or some other source, which creates these ridiculously high expectations of how perfect we should all be able to live our lives. What I want to say is “Lighten up! You are doing the best you can. Enjoy it all!” I realize my words are like farts in the wind. An adult who has been told how to live his life, and which rules to follow since birth, isn’t going to change. It is all too ingrained. It is all to regimented, and the tribe is all in agreement, so that is the way it is going to be. But just maybe one person might be moved to be a bit less tough on themelves, and realize you aren’t a bad person, you are doing the best you can, and life really is about being free, and uncontrolled, and able to evaluate your actions without anyone else’s guidance. Perhaps just one person may reclaim their own authority, and not give it away. Just maybe it’s you.
Self sabotage is what happens when we feel guilt. Since we feel guilty, we convince ourselves that we don’t deserve the amazing life that has been offered to us. Instead, we find ways to accept less, go for less, come up with all sorts of reasons why we don’t have an amazing life, amazing love, amazing people, and amazing experiences. Instead, we see ourselves as bad people, or irresponsible people, or somehow undeserving people, and we screw it up for ourselves. Usually, it is my observation that most don’t even see themselves doing it. Instead, it is just the way it is. We learn to settle for less, and accept that this is our lot in life. How do we free ourselves up from ourselves, from these self imposed prisons and stop self sabotaging?
What we must do is take out the garbage.
Here is a great process or exercise that I will share with you. Write down all the things that you feel guilty about. Take your time, and write down everything. Close your eyes for 15 minutes and see what comes up. Write it all down on a piece of paper. Then one night, when you feel ready to let it all go, just as the sun goes down, put the paper in a bowl and light it on fire. The next step is very important. Sit there and watch the paper burn. As you are watching it, feel the guilt lifting from your body. Imaging these clouds of guilt, in the form of smoke, lifting up to the sky. Just let them go. Feel whatever emotions you feel. Many people feel sadness during this process, for they have grown comfortable with their guilt. Think about it. Without the excuse of guilt, what kind of a life are you going to build for yourself. This can be kind of scary. Has the guilt impacted your decisions about the work you do, the relationships you are in, and the activities you participate in daily? If you didn’t feel guilty, would you treat your body better, and eat healthier food? Would you maybe stop smoking, and start exercising? It is a powerful experience to realize all the pernicious ways guilt thwarts us in life.
Guilt and Shame are bad habits. I suggest we can change our way of being. Go and burn your guilt. See what happens. I will end with some Rumi. He is always good for my soul:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”― Rumi
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field.I’ll meet you there.When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.”
“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”