A number of years ago my wife, Brenda, conducted classes in self-awareness and self-development based on the principles of Attitudinal Healing and on what she had learned from her life’s experiences. She ran night-time classes every week for 10 weeks covering a range of subjects encompassing meditation techniques designed to assist people to still their busy thoughts, and look within their own minds to see things differently in order to find answers to their problems. I attended these classes to lend Brenda a hand.
A hot topic at one of these particular sessions was letting go of guilt. Brenda’s view, and mine, was that guilt was the underlying source of all of our problems and conflicts. Guilt generates fear in all its guises – anxiety; self-doubt; feelings of unworthiness; anger; insecurity; debilitating addictions; depression and so on. In our minds, guilt implies that we deserve, and should expect, punishment.
I remember one participant, a man in his 60s I’d guess, telling the group that all of his life he had wrestled with guilty emotions, but most times he couldn’t identify the reasons behind his guilty feelings. He described his experience as “nameless guilt”.
What he said struck a chord with me because most of my life I’d suffered from the same affliction.
I think I first became aware of these guilty feelings after reaching puberty, although it was many years later that my suppressed and denied guilty feelings surfaced into my conscious awareness.
I can now understand, in my teens, how the changes to my rapidly maturing body, the production of hormones that stimulates libido, and the concurrent onset of a kaleidoscope of confused feelings and emotions revolving around sexual urges and sexual impulses, contributed to a shameful sense that my thoughts, feelings and fantasies were wrong, dirty and sinful. Guilt, at least at a subconscious level, followed.
Like most boys of my generation, my sex education mainly came from other boys, based on macho, ill-informed, self-gratifying conversations about treating females disrespectfully as merely objects to satisfy the sexual desires of testosterone-driven young males.
On reflection, there were many other causes of a growing stockpile of guilt that was pushing its way up through my subconscious to my conscious mind. Other things that made me feel ashamed of myself because I knew I had done the wrong thing. Like lying or cheating; or attacking others to save my thin skin; or holding grievances; or seeking revenge; or selling out in order to be approved of; to name a few.
By the time I was in my mid-thirties, “nameless guilt” was plaguing me. Although my ego put up a false front of bravado, self-confidence and know-it-allness - fooling most of the people most of the time - the person I thought I was, was a lot different to my phoney public persona. This was taking its toll on me, with my self-doubts plaguing me and my shame constantly haunting me. This led to some disastrous relationships, marriage breakdowns, binge drinking to escape from the person I thought I was and a slide into despair, anger and depression.
It’s taken me many years to understand that my path in life, like most people, is strewn with mistakes, wrong decisions and poor choices and I can either capitulate under the heavy weight of my guilt and shame for these errors, or I can look at them honestly, admit my mistakes and learn from them.
The past is over. I can’t go back and change what has happened. All I can do, is be aware of what I did wrong and be determined not to repeat those mistakes by making better choices now and in the future.
“Nameless guilt” has assisted in bringing me to where I’m now at in my attitude and behaviour. It’s no longer the heavy weight it used to be.