Feeling Guilty About Not Feeling Guilty?
“Mom, what happened to the rest of the M&Ms?” asked my son shaking the bright yellow bag, yanked from the garbage can, a few colourfully coated bits somersaulting on to the kitchen floor. Hmmm…do I lie and blame my husband, who won’t recall that he didn’t finish off a large part of a Costco-sized sack? Like bile, the guilt creeps up my throat… and finally I admit to it. Accept my child’s crestfallen dismay and disappointment at my lack of control (and therefore his lack of treats) as I swipe my tongue about the flakes still clinging like sleepy bats to my molars.
Guilt. The undeniable, overwhelming, all-too-constant power of Guilt.
During a sermon a couple of weeks ago a guest speaker explained that people around the world basically experience the world through three main moral frameworks: Honour and Shame, Power and Fear, and Guilt and Innocence. Here’s how honorshame.com explains it:
Guilt-innocence cultures are individualistic societies (mostly Western), where people who break the laws are guilty and seek justice or forgiveness to rectify a wrong.
Shame-honor cultures describe collectivistic cultures (common in the East), where people are shamed for not fulfilling group expectations and seek to restore their honor before the community.
Fear-power cultures refer to animistic contexts (typically tribal), where people afraid of evil and harm pursue power over the spirit world through magical rituals. (HonorShame.com)
In North America we have historically embraced the Guilt and Innocence mindset. But individuals in 2020 tend to exist more in the middle of the Venn diagram, clinging to all three of the worldviews and therefore past approaches towards sharing the Gospel no longer function in the same way.
The speaker, along with supportive grunts from our usual pastor, briefly outlined his horror and hurt at the fact that Guilt and Innocence factors no longer seem to effectively work in our culture. Thankfully, because we still watch online, no one in the congregation could hear my great and gusty “P…shaw!” (A much politer version of what would have been burped out had church not been involved.)
Why is/was using guilt a good thing? Should we really celebrate drenching folks in an emotional experience that devours you like I did those darn peanut M&Ms (because the brown bag doesn’t entice me as much as those darn yellow-bagged peanut ones)? Is the power and danger of Guilt worth the control factor that accompanies it? Should we really encourage an emotion with such long term negative effects?
Does the emotive pang of guilt simply disappear because the ethical mind has made peace? Jay Michaelson in HuffPost
Perhaps I’m simply mixing up Guilt and Shame. Perhaps, to me, they have become unbreachably linked when in reality the difference is “I did something bad” (Guilt) vs. “I am bad” (Shame)(Robert Weiss in Psychology Today).
[Brene] Brown also makes it clear that feeling guilty can absolutely be a healthy thing, as this emotion can and often does lead to positive behavior change: “I feel bad about my behavior, and I’d like to fix the situation and behave differently in the future.” Shame, on the other hand, is incredibly unhealthy, causing lowered self-esteem (feelings of unworthiness) and behaviors that reinforce that self-image: “I am a bad person, and there’s nothing I can do about that, so I might as well continue behaving badly.” In short, guilt is potentially a very healthy feeling, and shame is not. Robert Weiss
So I felt Guilt because I’d jumped back in bed with Sugar who I had irrefutably dumped the week before in a very dramatic, car-keying, tire-slashing method…and Shame that I was so weak I couldn’t seem to resist snuggling up to this sweet lover.
What happens when we feel guilty about not feeling guilty? You heist a package of pencil crayons from the school supply closet to take home for your kids…you should be pickled in guilt but you aren’t. So, instead, you’re brining in a jar of cucumbers with the very idea that you should be guilty when you aren’t. Guilty about not feeling guilty. Which is, technically, still guilt.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne explains in her article on Psychology Today entitled “The Definitive Guide to Guilt” that “ It’s appropriate to feel guilty when you’ve done something wrong. Feeling the emotion of guilt for an action deserving of remorse is normal; to not feel guilty, in these cases, may be a sign of psychopathy.” Our problem is when we can’t stop feeling that guilt — allowing it to wrap itself our head and heart like a whale-sized leech that hasn’t tasted blood for a few weeks. But you don’t have to be stuck…yank out the salt container and dust off those bloodsuckers…
1. Own Your Decisions
2. Practice Self-Compassion
3. Reflect Upon Your Actions
4. Learn from Your Mistakes (Ashley Elizabeth)
Say no to the undeniable, overwhelming, all-too-constant power of Guilt. So you murdered a villageful of innocent M&Ms…Own it. Quit beating yourself up with the empty package. Think back on why you did it…and think ahead to how you can avoid doing it again in the future. (Sorry, Costco, but next time I’m avoiding that aisle…)