Our societal hypnosis easily puts a feeling of guilt in our minds (I am bad, even without doing anything wrong). Furthermore, the presentations in several upbringing / religious traditions can give us the impression that one should feel guilty and ashamed even for simply having fun. I believe that this type of guilt is a learned, socially imposed emotion – it arises from lingering patterns, lodged in our subconscious. Did you know Tibetans do not even have a word for it! If that is correct, it is not even a basic human emotion, but a culturally imposed type of mental frustration; which means that we can relatively easily overcome it by un-learning this artificial emotion.
It’s important to learn how to recognise feelings of toxic guilt so that you are no longer programmed from the inside.
Toxic guilt often has roots in early childhood: Mistakes that your parents or teachers treated as a big deal, for example, can fill you with guilty feelings that have no real basis.
But there’s no question that toxic guilt can also come from a cumulative buildup of specific, unrepaired hurt that you may feel you have caused in this life. When you’ve racked up a few painful moments of self-betrayal, or even when you neglect to call your parents or exercise enough, or sneak that piece of chocolate, you can accumulate a fair amount of free-flowing guilt. Moreover, on the path of awakening, we will often develop an exquisitely scrupulous conscience. Once we begin to hold ourselves to the ethical standards of the spiritual path, it becomes harder to let ourselves get away with insensitive or harmful behaviour. At the same time, we may still have some old habits of carelessness and unconsciousness. So, despite our best intentions, we sometimes do things that we know aren’t good for ourselves or other people — and feel guilty. But when willing to look more deeply, we will probably find that our sense of toxic guilt has very little to do with anything that we did. That, paradoxically, is what makes it so toxic.
To complicate matters, when our toxic guilt gets mixed up with our existential guilt, we’ll often suffer from a feeling that we’re responsible for everyone else’s pain. Once we can recognise a painful feeling as guilt and identify it’s type, it becomes easier to work with. Some guilts do need amends, because the guilty feeling points out a failure to live up to our own values. Other guilts are best let go.
The greatest guilt-busting attitude is the radical recognition of our essential goodness — to look beyond our flaws and know our deeper perfection.
I like this story by Swami Muktananda:
“There were once two monasteries, each located close to a big city. In one monastery, the students were told that human beings were sinners and that intense vigilance and penance were the only ways the students could avoid their sinful tendencies. In the other monastery, the students were encouraged to believe in their fundamental goodness, and to trust their hearts. One day, a young man in each of these monasteries decided that he needed a respite from monastic life. Each boy sneaked out his dormitory window, hitched a ride to the nearby city, found a party, and ended up spending the night with a prostitute. The next morning, the boy from the “sinner” monastery was overcome with punishing remorse. He thought, “I’ve fallen irrevocably from the path. There’s no point in my going back.” He didn’t return to his monastery and soon became part of a street gang.
The second boy also woke up with a hangover. But his response to the situation was very different. “That was not as satisfying as I imagined it would be,” he thought. “I don’t think I’ll do that again anytime soon.” Then he went back to his monastery, climbed in the window, and was admonished for sneaking out at night. My teacher would say that when we believe that we are sinners, a very small slip can send us spiraling into a pattern of self-destructive action. But when we know, as the yoga sages tell us, that we are fundamentally divine, that we are all Buddhas, it’s much easier to forgive our selves for the bad or unskillful things we do. It’s also easier to change our behaviour. So the real solution to our problematic guilty feelings is to recognise, over and over again, the light of God’s love that illuminates our heart.”
Remember, you cannot cause emotional pain in another person. You can trigger emotional pain in someone else, but the pain that is triggered comes from inside them (not from you). It is an opportunity for them to learn about themselves. Your actions are your responsibility. If they come from fear rather than love, they will create painful consequences for you.Leave a reply →