The Problem of Guilt

What is Guilt? Remorse? Responsibility for wrong? Conflict with conscience?

It is actually a combination of fear and anxiety, so it falls in the Balance Wheel under Disgust. But that does not mean that we should use disgust to deal with all forms of guilt. There is another step involved with guilt, and this step requires a scientific concept of how guilt came to be.

Guilt probably evolved as a mechanism to avoid attack. Stealing food, for example, would provoke an attack. Fear would have been the emotion accompanying the attack. Eventually, the fear probably followed the act of stealing but preceded the retaliatory attack thereby becoming a form of anticipation. Guilt is the anticipation of punishment.

“Okay! Enough of that Darwin stuff!”

Guilt is really a form of knowledge—knowledge that we deserve retaliation. Once guilt is understood as a form of knowledge, then it can be much more effectively felt and dealt with.

Guilt is a Problem

Knowledge, in any form, causes problems when it is incorrect. We can know, for example, that the sum of the interior angles of a triangle is one hundred eighty degrees. But this is not true if the triangle is drawn on a curved surface. On a convex surface, the sum of the interior angles exceeds one hundred eighty degrees. On a concave surface, the sum of the angles is less.

“Jeezus-gawd! Get back to the point!”

People often tell me they feel guilty about eating too much. This is classic inappropriate guilt because it is based on incorrect knowledge. If guilt is knowledge that we deserve retaliation, then who will retaliate against us for eating too much? Our own bodies? My fatter ass? That is not retaliation. It is mere cause and effect. Yet I perceive my fatter ass as some form of retaliation.

Guilt makes the problem of over-consumption much more confusing by introducing incorrect “knowledge” or facts. You can simplify the choice of how much to eat by dropping guilt and looking scientifically at the cause/effect relationship between food and energy. The emotion of guilt must be ignored or removed by a technique such as Thought Stopping.

More Problems with Guilt

Children often feel guilty about the burden they must have been to their parents. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the prince is telling his fifteen-year-old daughter about the time he and she were exiled to a deserted island when she was five. Miranda exclaims, “Alack, what trouble was I then to you!” Of course the prince assures her that she was “a cherubim” who strengthened him. But children still carry this same feeling of guilt across cultures and centuries.

Very simply, the knowledge is incorrect. If guilt is knowledge that we deserve retaliation, then why do we deserve retaliation for being children or for having needs? We do not deserve retaliation or punishment. Therefore, the guilt is inappropriate.

I have spoken with many people who feel guilty after their spouse declines sex. This is not usually a form of rejection, and we do not deserve punishment for initiating sex. Never respond to this with guilt. Respond with some other part of the Balance Wheel such as Love (compassion) or Joy (humor). Beware, however! A bad joke does deserve retaliation!

How Do I Stop Feeling Guilty?

Inappropriate guilt is perfect for the “Thought Stopping” technique from the “Toolbox” section. Very simply, you begin by relaxing with a Basic Meditation. Then you let the guilt grow stronger in your mind. Let it grow and become stronger. Then, with as much mental force as you can muster, shout “STOP!”

Incidentally, this also works very effectively with the temptation to eat or drink too much. If it is not time to for a meal, but the food is tempting you, follow the same procedure for the food as you do for the guilt.

You can also develop your own technique. I often use the word “NO!” Or by imagining some unpleasant sound, like gunfire. All these techniques can be modified to fit your own personality.

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