Saturday, 9 January 2010

No Frills: Guilt

Well yesterday I managed to epically fail at posting - so bang goes my perfect blog, posted in neatly every single day for the full 365 days of the year. The intention, however, was there but then things happened through the day and the time I had allocated to write got taken over by other things. Why am I trying to explain myself to my own blog? *pats and soothes blog* ... sorry for neglecting you.

1. the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, esp. against moral or penal law; culpability: He admitted his guilt.
2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
3. conduct involving the commission of such crimes, wrongs, etc.: to live a life of guilt.

Freud describes guilt as, "The result of a struggle between the ego and the superego parental imprinting. He rejected the role of God as punisher in times of illness or rewarder in time of wellness. While removing one source of guilt from patients, he described another. This was the unconscious force within the individual that contributed to illness. The victim of someone else's accident or bad luck may be offered criticism, the theory being that the victim may be at fault for having attracted the other person's hostility."

I don't know exactly what it is built in me that makes me feel guilty by instinct, I always have this sense that I'm doing something terribly wrong if I'm not doing something perfectly. Nobody will die if I don't post this blog, nobody will really care - except for me. Without justifiable cause guilt (which in absence of justifiable cause is probably more correctly "shame") is an empty emotion, it seems to serve no function other than making it's victim feel terrible. That in mind and not being a practising Catholic it beggars the question - why indulge in it then?

Having had several peaks and troughs in my life with my mental health and particularly concluding that guilt and the pursuit of perfection is the driving force behind my eating disorders, I have spent significant time doing extensive introspective work and external exploration into the concept of feeling guilty.

I struggled a long time whilst I was ill being void of all emotions except guilt. It's such a forceful emotion that it just couldn't be cut out. I struggled for a long time to return to allowing myself to feel exposed to those disassociated feelings particularly the "negative" ones- worried of their consequences and not seeing the point of subjecting myself to pain if there wasn't a reason for it. One by one I learned the point to having certain feelings and how actually they are vital to our survival as human beings in relation to our interactions with others, but it took me a lot longer to understand the functionality of guilt. After years of unpicking I have been left with one simple conclusion as to why that feeling of guilt is so powerful and also actually why it is important. Stripped bare without guilt I believe it'd mean that we didn't care. Now I am not going to spend hours going into the psychology of it but it doesn't take Einstein (or Freud for that matter as we're on the topic) to understand that as a species if we had no remorse the human race would be pretty diabolical.

At the risk of sounding like a over theraped andriod - I am learning to love my feelings of unjustifiable guilt (shame) and try to take them into my stride, understand and accept them. I used to get angry and incredibly frustrated at the hours of my life I devote to worrying and feeling guilty and whilst I don't seem to be mastering the art of not being ashamed just yet I am certainly getting there. I'd certainly rather live devoting hours of my life to feeling this way and suffering the mental battles than live a shame free, guilt free life and never give a shit about anyone or anything other than myself...


  1. I wish I had the ability to express things in the way that you do - beautiful post xx

  2. Yes a really wonderful post. You're so articulate and clearly very intelligent. Did you know that the existential psychologists reckon that simply by being alive, and as part of the human condition, we either feel guilt or anxiety? Existential guilt is what we feel when we fail to be fully authentic, that is to live fully, to take risks in life, and to be completely ourselves. Existential anxiety, on the other hand, is what we feel when we DO do those things! So either way we're going to have some difficult emotions to deal with, but as you say much rather have that and deal with it than become an unfeeling and unethical twit. The one thing I'd quibble with, with those existential psychologists, is that being authentic / being fully onself is a process, without a clear start or end point. The more we do it the more we learn about ourselves and the more we become ourselves. It's not as if we can overnight start being fully ourselves. So there will always be some existential guilt, and we can use that to drive our journey. Our 'Self' also changes over time - or should.