Let’s talk about guilt and shame. We often use both terms interchangeably. According to psychology they are similar but guilt relates to the self, while shame relates to others. That is: in guilt we feel like we’ve done something wrong; in shame, we feel wrong because of external factors. I will simply use ‘guilt’ in the rest of the article because for me the two concepts form a whole.
While some amount of guilt seems normal when we act a certain way, guilt is an emotion that is far too widespread in our world, and something that sooner or later we have to face in ourselves. It’s fundamentally a feeling of wrongdoing that is behind guilt. There’s embarrassment, judgment and fear to confront situations and people. There’s an invisible weight we carry that prevents us from functioning normally. Our sense of freedom is impacted, our sense of wellbeing too. Guilt literally sucks energy out of us and is one of the most toxic negative emotions we can feel of all.
Guilt is strongly connected to fear—and they often come together—but it has a different energy. I would say that guilt is fear directed inwards, a constant voice of doubt in our head. We all carry some form of guilt but react differently to it. What’s important is to learn to recognise it first of all, because without that awareness we cannot take any actions to address it. Guilt takes many—familiar—faces in the inner dialogue:
We may have heard about guilt, but it’s only when we internalise what it really means and what it really feels like in the body that we can start to work on it. People who are guilt-ridden cannot stay physically healthy. I believe any form of guilt weakens our immune system and of the many emotions we can feel, it’s plain destructive. Therefore when we reach a certain level of consciousness, we will find the courage to do something about our guilt. Integrating our guilt will be liberating, and we know deep inside that the cost is too high not to do the work.
In our modern societies, guilt is used as a weapon of mass control. I measure my words. Weakening people emotionally, psychologically and physically can only be a strategy for domination. Many messages from media, commercials, marketing, brands, governments and their agencies, figures of authority etc. all coalesce into a grand ‘guilt propaganda’. The messages make us believe we need to buy something, desire something and alter our behaviour; whereas all we need to do is not to buy into the messages in the first place! There’s the guilt of not being good enough: a good parent, a good partner, a good employee, a good tax payer etc. There’s the guilt of not having enough: money, status, fame etc. There’s the guilt of not giving enough: to charities, to the latest worldwide catastrophe, to save the wildlife. There’s the guilt of not being fast enough to do our tasks, intelligent enough, educated enough, healthy enough, slim enough, beautiful enough. In addition, we are often shown role models that look flawless and happy—but are pure fiction, because nobody can live up to those fake standards. Not being able to match those people, we are likely to feel guilty and believe something must be wrong with us! More recently in our history, we have been heavily targeted by guilt-inducing campaigns: those posters in the streets showing how getting a Covid vaccine will ‘save’ lives (and therefore not taking it would make you a murderer); the broadcasts saying to stay home to ‘save’ lives etc. Guilt is at every corner, and we simply can’t shield from the outside messages.
What can we do then? Do some inner work! We can work at our own level to process the emotion of guilt when it arises inside of our being. We can learn to welcome guilt when it knocks at the door, integrate it and let it go. We can build a sense of self-worth that does not let guilt in. Not to say that we are perfect beings that do not need to ever feel guilty—because there are those moments when it’s appropriate and healthy—but generally speaking, we are subject to receiving abnormally high amounts of guilt during our day.
I’ve talked about emotions in general here before.
Guilt takes away our life force if we can’t process it because it will stay stuck in our physical body (in various organs etc.). But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we have enough self-love, we will integrate and surrender any guilt that we ever felt and then do it on the spot as we go along in life. Doing so, we can heal ourselves, heal those around us and the world at large. A world without mass guilt would look tremendously different—and I feel that one day it will be that way. Best of luck on your path to integrating guilt and shame; that is a path that can only be walked alone.