Monday, February 19, 2018

The Problem of Guilt

I read an excellent chapter titled, "The Problem of Guilt" in the book "Honouring the self" by Nathaniel Branden. I reproduce selected paragraphs from that chapter for my readers. I feel everyone should read and share this wisdom. 

"The essence of guilt, whether minor or major, is moral self-reproach: I did wrong when it was possible for me to do otherwise. Guilt always carries the implication of choice and responsibility, whether or not we are consciously aware of it. Guilt serves the need for efficacy by providing an illusion of efficacy. 

The protection of self-esteem requires the clear understanding of the limits of volitional responsibility. Where there is no power, there can be no responsibility, and where there is no responsibility, there can be no reasonable self-reproach. Regret, yes: guilt no. Where there is neither evasion nor irresponsibility nor conscious breach of integrity, there are no rational grounds for the experience of guilt. There may, naturally, be grounds for pain or regret over errors of judgement. 

Perhaps the mildest form of guilt is experienced by those persons who, although they may avoid a great deal of thinking in their lives, about their relationships, work, and their values and goals in general, have not knowingly violated their convictions in any major way, have not attempted to cheat reality and get away with what they regard as the irrational. They may operate at a lower level of consciousness than that of which they are capable, but they are more or less honest within that context. Those who do act against their moral convictions commonly experience a heavier burden of guilt. But here we must make a major distinction. 

Often when a person declares, "I feel guilty over such and such", what the person really means but rarely acknowledges is, "I am afraid that if mother or father knew about what I had done, I would be condemned". We frequently find that the person does not actually regard the action as wrong. In these circumstances, the solution to the problem of "guilt" lies in the courage to heed the voice of the self- in other words, increased autonomy. 

In other words, when I become more honest about my own feelings- which is another form of honouring the self-I give up the need to feel "guilty". And when I do, I am freer to think clearly about values and expectations I may need to challenge. We do not transcend by denying and repressing our feelings of dependence, but rather by accepting them, experiencing them, and then stepping beyond them by learning to listen to and respect our internal signals-to think for ourselves-and to be guided by our own conclusions. If we attempt to avoid, disown, and repress our negative feelings, rather than deal with them honestly, all we succeed in doing is driving them underground, and then guilt spreads and diffuses through the entire sense of self. 

We deceive ourselves if we imagine that we can redeem our self-esteem merely by suffering-or by telling ourselves that there is no way to redeem our self-esteem. With relatively rare exceptions, there is always a way, and it is our responsibility to find it. The challenge is not to surrender to passivity. Passivity-the abdication of the responsibility of action-is the ultimate enemy". 

I hope it was a worthwhile read. 
Thank you. 

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