Guilt & Shame: Something to Think About


“The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is.” – George Bernard Shaw

Shame and guilt are are tough and touchy subjects to write about.  Unpopular subjects to talk and think about for many.  Guilt and shame make us feel bad, and we are by nature pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding creatures.  So who wants to voluntarily feel bad or ashamed about the choices they’ve made and the things they’ve done?

But what if guilt and shame–feeling these feelings and acknowledging them, and even examining them, instead of trying to avoid feeling them and burying them–might be a good thing? Especially in the long run.  What if?

One of the problems with guilt and shame is that so often when we feel guilty and ashamed it’s really not because of ourselves–it’s because we have a push-button recording going off in our heads–an unexamined automatic recording or voice telling us that we’re no good, or that we’re a failure or that we’re worthless, et cetera.  Maybe what we did was indeed wrong or heinous or bad, and maybe we should get tough with ourselves about it.  But it should be we who get tough with ourselves, not some archaic remnant voice of our parents or father- or mother-figure mercilessly ripping us a new one. That archaic voice is part of the unexamined life and needs to be examined, deconstructed, brought to light.  That voice is not nearly as important or relevant as what you really think about what you did and why you think that way.  The real question is ought you feel guilty or ashamed of what you have or have not done?  In the presence of your heroes or those you aspire to be like or to become, or even in the presence of God, ought you feel ashamed or guilty?  Have you let what’s best in you down?  Are you better than what you’re showing?

To me, that’s the essence of Shaw’s quote and the best possible reading or interpretation of it.  That’s the essence of beneficial guilt and “healthy shame.”

What do you think?

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Masks and the Game of Hide & Seek We Play with Ourselves


Masks. There are women who have no inner life wherever one looks for it, being nothing but masks. That man is to be pitied who lets himself in with such ghostly, necessarily unsatisfying creatures; but just these women are able to stimulate man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their souls–and searches on and on.
– Nietzsche

And this is how I read/interpret this:

Masks. There are women (and perhaps this may hold true for men as well. What do you think?) who have no real identity or core self wherever one looks for it and so ultimately are nothing but masks. And it’s thought that perhaps a man ought to be pitied who lets himself caught up with and beguiled by such a ghostly and inconsistent creature, such a chameleon. Yet perhaps he ought not be pitied; because it is just this type of woman who is able to stimulate a poetic and philosophic man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their soul–and he does so on and on and on. Such a woman is perhaps the ultimate form of stimulation for some men who are by nature philosophic, poetic, in other words, psychologists.

The excerpt from Nietzsche also reminded me of something I had read many years ago in “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck—

The essential component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense. The evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness, continually sweeping the evidence of their badness under the rug of their own consciousness. The problem is not a defect of conscience but the effort to deny the conscience its due.

We become evil by attempting to hide from ourselves.

Evil originates not in the absence of guilt and shame but in the effort to escape from these. Evil may be recognized by its very disguise. The lie can be perceived ahead of the misdeed that it is designed to hide—the cover-up that is being created before the fact. We see the false smile that covers over the hatred and anger, the smooth and oily manner and the false laughter that masks the hidden fury or resentment, the velvet glove that covers the fist. The disguise is often impenetrable. But what we can catch are glimpses of that “uncanny game of hide-and-seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.” (Martin Buber, Good and Evil).

The words “image,” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of evil. While those who are evil or morally bad seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. But their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. Which is why they are the “people of the lie.”

What are some of the characteristics of those who are evil, or who are on the way to becoming evil?

– Consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior (blaming others) and abdication of personal responsibility, which may often be quite subtle.

– Excessive, albeit usually quite covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

– Pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability.

– Intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic-like or dissociative disturbance of thinking at times of stress.

People are more willing to change their circumstances rather than change themselves, because they are so attached to their self. Yet this is the ultimate attachment that we must overcome in order to truly grow and heal—the attachment to the self, to our persona, self-image, our masks, our false or pseudo-selves.

When Pop-Psych Advice Goes Amuck . . .


Dr. Wayne W. Dyer posted this little gem of pop-psych gone amuck advice yesterday on his Facebook page, and it has tallied up over 11,100 “Likes,” 500 comments, and 3,600 plus “Shares”!

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, then move on.

Like Unlike · Comment · Share · 11,191 Likes; 500 Comments; 3,610 Shares · 11 hours ago

 

And so I posted this (little gem) in response:

Garbage . . . such blithe all-or-nothing throw the baby out with bath-water advice. . . .

Pop quiz: who said/wrote the following:

“I don’t feel guilty for anything! I feel less guilty now than I’ve felt in any time in my life. About anything. And it’s not that I’ve forgotten anything, or else closed down part of my mind, or compartmentalized. I compartmentalize less now than I ever have. It’s just done! . . . Guilt . . . is this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism—and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. It doesn’t solve anything, necessarily. It’s just a very gross technique we impose upon ourselves to control the people, groups of people. I guess I am in the enviable position of not having to deal with guilt. . . . I feel sorry for people who feel guilt. . . . But I don’t feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t feel guilty because the guilt doesn’t solve anything, really. It hurts you. You don’t need to feel badly. You don’t need to regret.”

A. Wayne Dyer
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

The answer, of course, is E.

Lament and guilt are actually completely normal and appropriate responses when we have erred and done wrong and or “missed the mark.” And the correct next step after we have felt guilt or lament is to make our amends, take corrective restorative actions, and then to never do the bad or errant behavior again.

The solution isn’t to blithely “forgive ourselves” and get rid of that shred of sanity within us (our conscience) that is nagging us and reminding us that we could have done better.

And the soulution isn’t to write assinine and vague little blog posts advising people to glibly forgive themselves and move on.

Seriously, what were you thinking, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer?!?

Can you imagine a nation of people focused just on forgiving themselves (how self-centered! Where is the actual concern or compassion for the other person–the person who was wronged or hurt??) and just moving on??? You’ve forgotten the most important piece of advice!–To advise people to take corrective action and make their amends; and then NEVER do that wrong or errant thing again. And then guess what?–they’ll never have to feel guilty for doing that bad or errant thing again for the simple fact that they will have stopped doing that errant or wrong thing!

So how about instead of:

You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, then move on.

Perhaps something more psychologically sound and mature like:

You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, seek the other person’s forgiveness, take corrective restorative action and make your amends, and then move on and never do what it is you’re feeling guilty about ever again.

Guilt & Conscience


Pop Quiz:

Who wrote/said this?

1. When Abbot Antonio was asked if the road of sacrifice led to Heaven, he replied:

‘There are two such roads. The first is that of the man who mortifies his flesh and does penance because he believes that we are all damned. This man feels guilty and unworthy to live a happy life. He will never get anywhere because God does not inhabit guilt.

‘The second road is that of the man who knows that the world is not as perfect as we would all like it to be, but who nevertheless puts time and effort into improving the world around him.

‘In this case, the Divine Presence helps him all the time, and he will find Heaven.’

A. The Dalai Lama
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

2. “Each human being has the right to seek out joy, joy being understood as something which makes one content—not necessarily that which makes others content. Each human being must keep alight within him the sacred flame of madness;—and must behave like a normal person. The only faults considered grave are the following: not respecting the rights of one’s neighbor, letting oneself be paralyzed by fear, feeling guilty, thinking one does not deserve the good and bad which occurs in life, and being a coward. We shall love our adversaries, but not make alliances with them. They are placed in our way to test our sword, and deserve the respect of our fight. We shall choose our adversaries, not the other way around. We hereby declare the end to the wall dividing the sacred from the profane: from now on, all is sacred.”

A. The Dalai Lama
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

3. “I don’t feel guilty for anything! I feel less guilty now than I’ve felt in any time in my life. About anything. And it’s not that I’ve forgotten anything, or else closed down part of my mind, or compartmentalized. I compartmentalize less now than I ever have. It’s just done! . . . Guilt . . . is this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism—and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. It doesn’t solve anything, necessarily. It’s just a very gross technique we impose upon ourselves to control the people, groups of people. I guess I am in the enviable position of not having to deal with guilt. . . . I feel sorry for people who feel guilt. . . . But I don’t feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t feel guilty because the guilt doesn’t solve anything, really. It hurts you. You don’t need to feel badly. You don’t need to regret.”

A. The Dalai Lama
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

I’ll admit it: I have very little patience for new age blather. And the above selections from Paulo Coehlo (selections no. 1 and 2; selection no. 3 was from Ted Bundy but seems like it might as well have been something Coehlo may have written and that many of his readers would agree with) represent some of very worst in terms of the type of reprehensible soft-minded bullshit that a person in a position of influence and power is trying to spoon-fed to his flock—as well as anyone who is interested in becoming a new age psychopath. Coehlo’s new agey “love and light” soft-minded namby-pamby bullshit is bereft of anything resembling critical thinking or solid thinking. It’s emotional and immature and speaks equally to what’s worst and what’s best in us.

And that’s the problem.

When I look around—when I “stick my finger into existence,” in this case meaning when I browse books and the Internet, I don’t see people suffering from too much guilt or too much inappropriate guilt. What I see too often is people lacking guilt and lacking a conscience, and those around them (if not the person lacking guilt and a conscience as well) suffering because of it. Too often I see conscience being rationalized away and dismissed as a “societal control mechanism” (or some other counterculture gibberish) or as some sort of small-minded berating internalized voice of God or a parent, and people doing very selfish and exploitive—if not downright wrong, and even evil—things to others. All in the name of what? Immediate gratification? Giving into temptation? Their bucket list? Living life passionately and fully and never missing out on an experience or saying No to life? Not having to more closely examine themselves and their own peculiar unique psychopathology—“Each human being must keep alight within him the sacred flame of madness and must behave like a normal person”—Uhm, I believe that’s what Ted Bundy and most psychopaths try to do—try to behave like normal people and blend in.

No, when I look around, I don’t see people suffocating from too much guilt; I see people suffering because of too little guilt and too little conscience—too little goodness and too little honest self-examination and solid critical thinking. Too often I am coming across thoughts on guilt and conscience along the lines of Paulo Coehlo’s and Ted Bundy’s—the product of sloppy soft-minded thinking. Rarely am I coming across a book or an article or a web page where someone has done some solid non-“all or nothing” thinking about guilt, remorse, conscience.

Too often what I come across are all or nothing extremist type quotes and excerpts like this:

“The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally, without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralizes onto oneself.

This produces a tremendous energy, which is usually locked up in the process of mental evasion and generally running away from life experiences.” ~ Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche

As if the cute little “ ~ ” makes the quote seem cozier and happier and less malignant. Read the quote; I mean really read it and scrutinize it and think on it. Anywhere in there is there anything actually useful and solid that can be used for making a practical decision? Does the quote offer anything more than emotional masturbation, a quick “this meshes with the other Buddhist/Yoga stuff I’m reading so now I can feel edified and good about myself” pick me up? A conscienceless psychopath is coming at me with a knife, according to the above quote I should apparently experience the psychopath’s knife totally and without reservations and mental blockages—without any notions of self-preservation or that what this crazy fucker with a knife is about to do to me and my body might actually be WRONG and that perhaps I should not try to resist and defend myself and kick him as hard as I can in the balls and then disarm him because these might be the products of my mental reservations and blockages. Perhaps by accepting everything totally and not running away from the experience of a malignant psychopath coming at me with a knife I will amass such tremendous inner energy that my assailant’s knife will vibrate right through me as I bliss out and off into a higher astral plane.

Come on. Really?!

I mean where’s the discernment? Where’s the less extreme, less all or nothing, less black and white—and hence more truly wise—version of the above quote? . . .

“The everyday practice is to heroically develop a greater acceptance and openness to the many situations that life presents us with and a greater tolerance for the emotions that arise within us when we are in these situations, allowing us to experience ourselves and the situation more fully and completely, without as many mental reservations and blockages, so that one withdraws or centralizes less into oneself and one’s ego and instead becomes more available to the situation and to responding more creatively and appropriately and wisely. Now this produces a tremendous clarity and energy, a clarity and energy which are usually lost and or blocked up in the process of mental evasion and generally running away from many intense and unprecedented experiences in life, many of which would operate for our benefit if we didn’t close down and run away or go through them asleep, rote, unfocused, numb, unaware, oblivious, on autopilot.”

Some people—far too many people in my opinion—have an insipid “all or nothing” “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” approach to dealing with guilt. Guilt is such a painful emotion, such a downer, such a white-hot emotion, that makes them feel so bad about themselves, devastated even, and they simply refuse to feel that way about themselves—inferior, inadequate, less than, not-OK, as if there’s something wrong with them or as if they’ve done something wrong and or bad and so now they’re not perfect because their fragile weak egos can’t handle feeling guilty.  And so they do what a weak orgnism does naturally—avoid evade annihilate deny that which seems too painful, too threatening to them, to their fragile ego, to their perfectionistic and unrealistic and fantasy and whitewashed version of themselves.  And so they treat guilt like a four-letter word, like something to be eradicated, as if guilt were a useless emotion, and they try to inoculate themselves to ever feeling guilty, to ever having to feel or deal with the pangs of their own conscience.

Guilt is anything but useless. Guilt can be the first step toward accepting responsibility for some error or wrongdoing, even evil, that we committed. It can be the first step toward contrition. It can be the first step towards getting outside of ourselves and really deciding if what we had done unto another is something we would have wished done unto us had the situation been reversed and we in their shows and they in ours.  Appropriate guilt is a blessing, not a curse; it’s the still small voice of our conscience—of what’s best in us—reaching up through the muck and trying to get our attention—“hey, you missed something; you’re better than this; you did something wrong, now face it, own up to it, take responsibility for it, clean up your mess, make your amends, set things right, repair the damage you’ve done, and don’t what you did wrong again.” Guilt, when it’s like this, is good; very good. it’s anything but a useless emotion. Rather it’s an emotion we need to learn how to not run from, but to listen to and deal with maturely and squarely and honestly.