Quote of the day: GUILT

March 12, 2011


Guilt is not a feeling but a belief or judgment. Appropriate guilt is a judgment that is self-confronting and leads to resolution. Neurotic guilt is a judgment that is self-defeating and leads to unproductive pain. Appropriate guilt is resolved in reconciliation and restitution. Neurotic guilt seeks to be resolved by punishment. In appropriate guilt there is accountability. In neurotic guilt there is blame. In short, appropriate guilt is an adult response; neurotic guilt is the response of a scared child within us….

In every experience of neurotic guilt, there is something we are refusing to acknowledge.

1) A Disguise for Fear: Guilt that holds us back from acting can be a disguise for the fear of assertiveness. Guilt that follows a strong choice can be a fear of loss of love or of approval. We may fear the consequences of not being liked or of our losing control when we have strayed too far from an inhibition. The prior guilt can paralyze us and we then remain stuck or passive. The consequent guilt makes us ashamed and frightened of reprisals or of being known (or of knowing ourselves) in a new way.

2. A Downplay of Responsibility: Guilt after acting or after the omission of an act can be a way of minimizing the power of the choice we have made. We are less responsible if we judge ourselves guilty because then our whole self was not committed. Paradoxically, guilt thus lets us off the hook and creates a false sense of righteousness.

3. A Mask for Anger: Guilt can mean justifiable anger that we believe it is unsafe or wrong to feel or to express.

4. A Dodge of Truth: Guilt is sometimes used to avoid an unacceptable truth.

It is impossible to eliminate neurotic guilt entirely. Allow this guilt to be in your mind but no longer let it lead you to act or not to act. Make choices with guilt, not because of it. Simply notice what your guilt may be covering up. Is it a mask for fear, refusal to take responsibility, anger, denial of a truth, etc.? Then each time you experience neurotic guilt you acknowledge it as a signal of some avoidance. The guilt then dissipates enough so that you can address the authentic excitement and feeling underlying it. The guilt becomes what it always was: a concept not a precept, a belief not a verdict, a thought not a reality.

Fear is blocked excitement; anger is ignited excitement; guilt is mistaken excitement.

— David Richo

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