FEELING GUILTY? SHAME ON YOU!

I would like to speak frankly about a very intimate part of you in charge of "feeling guilty." In most cases, it is an unconscious part. Therefore, you are probably unaware of its existence. No wonder it is often an uncomfortable topic to talk about! <?xml:namespace prefix = o />
<?xml:namespace prefix = u1 /> However, guilt is one of those events in our lives capable of changing beneficially when brought into conscious awareness. Feeling guilty is not part of one's genetic makeup. It's actually an ability--an exquisite art--we acquire at an early age; and its level of mastery is directly proportional to the number and variety of training experiences available throughout childhood. Basic guilt training is a concerted effort among the various institutions of society--family, education, religion, law-- which provide a wealth of experiences in which an individual may practice responding. Right from the beginning there was messing-up at toilet training which you called an "accident," and sometimes Mom called, "your fault." This is usually the beginning of a host of family "rules" to which you must have adhered...or else! Some examples might have included: (a) Poor table manners, i.e., spilling milk or talking with a mouthful of food; (b) Forgetting distant relatives' names at a family gathering; (c) Offering unsolicited comments during "adult" conversations; or to your mother after being admonished for something (i.e., "back-talk")--even when you were right! (d) Failing to send your grandmother a Mother's Day card, birthday card or other holiday greeting.
 Of course, there is nothing in this format meant to imply that all parents "make" their children feel guilty (even those parents who feel guilty while reading this). Besides, were they not just doing what they learned from their parents?
 Education adds a harmonious blend to these training experiences. Remember the first time you came home with a bad report card and were told to "be ashamed of yourself?" Back then, you failed to realize how much easier this would be to perform the next time you came home with a bad report card! Perhaps you wondered how feeling ashamed helped you improve your grades. And in the classroom, was there a time when you were caught concealing "Playboy" behind your Math text? What about smoking in the bathroom (before 1980), or arriving late for class because you were detained in the school's "smoking room" (after 1980)? And religion. The very sound of the word itself resonates with pangs of guilt through many individuals. This institution provides a variety of interesting guilt training opportunities. Such as missing consecutive weekends of worship; or better yet, attending and simply following instructions!
 How many of you have ever been in a courtroom? There in front of a room full of people, some of whom might even recognize you, a judge asks you to tell him whether or not you are guilty. In order to decide, regardless what you tell him, you first have to make that experience internally. Try to not have it when someone brings it to your conscious awareness! It's sort of like someone in a restaurant telling a dieting individual not to think about the dessert tray that is moving steadily toward him.
 In all these cases, "guilt" is generally an unpleasant feeling which becomes associated with the learned event or rule at issue. When one needs to recall the state of consciousness necessary to get to that event, the associated unpleasant (guilt) feelings are accessed as well. So how can someone learn to forget how to have guilt? It's not easy. The thought of it might cause some even more guilt! Nevertheless, eliminating guilt involves retraining your internal experiences that often trigger it. Perhaps it’s that "little voice" that occurs a split second before a guilt feeling emerges. Make it say something else! Change the tone, rhythm; add background music. Put your guilt-ridden past "behind you." Imagine seeing yourself looking, sounding and feeling guilty... then move the entire scene behind you.
 How do any of these changes affect the experience? Be careful. In altering your guilt responses it is necessary to attach new meanings to old understandings in a way which is unfamiliar. You might even begin to respond differently when some of these old situations recur (imagine seeing your great aunt at a wedding, forgetting her name and simply telling her how wonderful she looks for her age?). In contrast, some people, believing their guilt responses to be justifiable, may decide to keep them. They need to avoid any attempt at changing their behavior! After all, what if they needed to feel guilty and no longer could? Wouldn't that be a shame?