Guilt and Self Punishment

Going off the path here today.  I have had some questions and emails regarding this subject so I thought I would share with everyone.

That fun little word is guilt and how we process it.  For some guilt transforms into self punishment and sometimes those two run rampant in our world and mess a lot of stuff up.  What is guilt? Can someone make you feel a guilt trip? Or does it just come naturally to you? I have been giving myself guilt over some situations in my life.  We all do it from time to time. It is how we deal with it and move past it is the key.  Staying stuck in the guilt often magnifies into self punishment and before we know it, bam, out of control.

In one sentence GUILT:  Guilt is the source of much sorrow; the driving force behind a constant mental whipping, a constant stinging. Guilt is insidious, stealthy and cunning. Guilt is a thief in the night, one that has taken up residence in your home, so skilfully that sometimes you can’t recognise it.  For some guilt is a shame that you take responsibility for someone elses actions upon you.  NOw why in the world would you do that? For some it was due to abuse, for some it might have been a personal attack on weight, appearance, lifestyle that they have carried around their whole life.  Or the infamous guilt trip brought on by you not behaving or doing what someone else wants you to do.  For myself, mine is brought on by a number of instances out of my control when I was a child. For someone to invade my space and me not have the courage to stand up and say No, I don’t like this I began to feel inferior.   I felt angry; I felt scared. And one day, I suddenly realised that I was blaming myself for the attack. I hated myself for not being strong enough to stand up to him, and worst of all, I felt I was somehow at fault; somehow I had deserved what had happened to me.

How preposterous, one might think! But it is not uncommon; a friend who works as a psychologist has told me many survivors of childhood abuse blamed themselves. To a young child, their parents are almighty. How can a perfect being be wrong? If their parents were abusing them, they must have been at fault, not the abuser.

Baby steps to awareness of your self punishment.  First take a moment and breathe some deep breaths.  Tensing up only blocks your efforts.

Close your eyes, become still, and welcome any thoughts and sensations into your awareness. Is there anything that you have not forgiven yourself for? Bring to mind a person or an event that still carries an emotional charge. Then follow it back to the root. You might be surprised at what you find, for you might be feeling guilty without even knowing what it is.  Or a made up belief surrounding the event could be busted through right here.

How does one change what they don’t even recognise, what they don’t even know exists?

Next step is to realize we were helpless.  There was nothing we could do; we were not in our own hands, merely dragged along by the force of our past.  This realization it is in our past could be enough to drop the self punishment.  THe past has no power over us right now or our future.  We can learn to stop the past coming into our future.  Welcome the pain, feel the sorrow completely without necessarily acting on it.  Release the pain once and for all and heal that memory. Make a different feeling surrounding the memory now.  One of being at peace.  This does take some time, might have to do it more than once until you have a different emotional charge around the memory.

The first is to find the root of the problem. The second is to see for yourself the strength of the forces that were pulling you at the time. The third is to dissolve the emotion of guilt. The last, and perhaps the most important, is to prepare for the future, to make it easier to catch your pattern the next time it threatens to overwhelm you.

We’ve discussed this meditation in the first part of this series – it is simply to relive and recreate the original situation in your mind.

Take a few minutes for this. Find somewhere quiet and penetrate your memories. Relive the event as vividly as you can, visualize it – what was happening then? Recreate the external situation, down to the finest detail. What was happening? What triggered it, what led up to it, what did you do in response?

And this is perhaps the most important step: turn your attention to your inner space. What were you feeling, what were you thinking? What triggered your actions? What contributed to it?

Use your guilt as a tool to penetrate yourself, to find the origin of your behaviour.You give your opinion on a minor topic, and someone disagrees politely and respectfully. And yet you fly into a rage. Why? Is your opinion that important? Or is it something else?

I used to know someone like that; she told me she was invisible as a child. No one cared about her opinion; in her own words, “no one gave a damn about what she wanted.” Her entire childhood was spent as a shadow, and the shame had taken over her adult life.

Follow your behaviour to the root, and heal that wound. It will mean the end of your unskilful behaviour.

The second benefit: During the contemplation, you’ve gone some way towards recapturing the force of your emotions, your patterns, and the circumstances that led up to it. Combine that with this truth: No mental image can come close to recreating the pull that you felt at that time. The truth is reinforced in your mind, and there will be an even greater relief: given what you knew, you could have done no better.

This meditation helps tremendously in releasing the emotions you were feeling then; not merely the guilt you felt about it afterwards. This weakens the very patterns themselves, which prepares us for the next step.

The most important benefit: Psychologists and spiritual teachers alike state the key to changing our conditioning is to become aware of it as it arises.

How do we stop something we don’t recognise? First become intimate with your patterns, know what triggers them, analyse how they feel, remember the thoughts and emotions that lead up to your actions.

Delve into it and watch it, feel it from every angle. The more you do this, the easier it is to catch your unconsciousness when it is next triggered.

Tomorrow we will discuss more on healing. Enjoy~

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