T O P I C R E V I E W
Jacob at Scarleteen
Member # 66249
posted 06-25-2011 08:25 AM
A little bit of a tender topic... I'm wondering what people make of guilt? I think I have been brought up in a way that has punishment as a pretty central part of childhood. Punishment was the way I was to be shown by adults what not to do. I don't think that was necessarily about learning to know what's bad but actually learning to feel it. Sometimes I'm really thankful that there's something like a conscience or 'pre-guilt' that protects us from being bad to people... and also feel that at times guilt is appropriate if we've hurt someone, but then at other times I feel like a fear of feeling bad about things can get in the way of identifying them, and that guilt itself can get in the way of changing things... I think a lot my friends especially male friends seem to have this real defensiveness when they're called out on their behaviour and are massively scared of having to feel guilty. It seems to be tied in with the notion of masculinity somehow. Another thing, as irrational as it may be, is that in my relationships I know a lot of sexual experiences especially new ones have been followed with a feeling of guilt, which I definitely wanted to shake... I've learnt better and better how to identify those that I don't really agree with and just wait for it to go away, and think "this is a fossil in my head, nothing to actually worry about, it will pass". Have other people felt similar things? Does guilt have a positive role to play in the parts of ourselves we might want to change? How do you... if you ever need to... deal with guilt in places where you actually disagree with it? And how do you make sure you're actually improving yourself toward others rather than just trying to pay penalties internally?
Member # 29269
posted 06-27-2011 10:08 AM
Jacob, do you want to talk some more about the idea of feeling guilt after sex? Do you have any sense of what that's about or where it's coming from?
I think that often guilt is something I've experienced as an emotion other people or things have caused me to feel, for example the guilt used in parenting, or (in at least my personal narrative) in religion. Even if I "agree" with guilt I'm feeling at a specific time, I don't think guilt is awfully helpful. Rather than avoiding feeling guilty, I'm actually more interested in avoiding hurting other people, as far as that's possible or fair to me. This is something I worked through a lot with my counsellor. I find it helpful to just identify that the guilt is usually to do with someone else's values, not mine, and that I'm not interested in feeling guilty about things I want to do. Sometimes I say that to myself, either in my head or out loud, even. I think I agree that a person feeling guilt is not as worthwhile as them recognising the harm they're causing (if indeed they're causing any at all), and the feelings they may or may not be hurting.
Jacob at Scarleteen
Member # 66249
posted 06-27-2011 04:31 PM
I meant it a little more hypothetically... thankfully no guilt after all sex, just after some new occasions, like the first time with a new partner etc... I definitely think that's a from-childhood thing (what isn't!) but maybe more cultural than religious. And sexuality is definitely that falls into the realm of taboos.
Though I agree that the actual concept of guilt is totally religious. I think that is something I faced in counselling too, but it got a bit circular... feeling guilty for feeling guilty and then trying not to, oh what a maze. I think you're also right that identifying and disowning unwanted guilt is how to deal with that... and telling yourself like you say that it's not your own values. Especially as it can embed itself in the very attempts to change the way you think.
Member # 29754
posted 06-28-2011 04:18 PM
I think that guilt (and shame and awkwardness and regret and sadness and other things that we don't like feeling) can be helpful or harmful. Because guilt is often what we feel if we do something that hurts someone else, it can be a good incentive to not do things that are hurtful to others. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of guilt built up around transgressing social norms, and not all social norms are particularly good ideas, so people can often wind up feeling guilty for things about which I don't think they should feel guilty at all (and they may not even think they SHOULD feel guilty about them, but still do). So, I think that one's best course when one is feeling guilty about something is to look at what it is one is feeling guilty about and decide whether one thinks it's appropriate to feel guilty about that. If it is, then one can resolve to avoid, to the best of one's ability, doing that thing again, and if it's something that hurt someone else, one can apologize and seek to make amends, if appropriate. If it's NOT something that one thinks one should be feeling guilty about, one can acknowledge that one is feeling the way one is and that that's legitimate, but also that there wasn't anything wrong with what one did, and try to move past it.
Telling oneself over and over that one doesn't HAVE to feel bad about something can eventually make those bad feelings lessen in intensity or go away (one is basically re-socializing oneself), but it doesn't work for everyone or with respect to everything, and even when it does, self-re-socialization is a lengthy and difficult process. I agree completely with what you say right here: "I think you're also right that identifying and disowning unwanted guilt is how to deal with that... and telling yourself like you say that it's not your own values. Especially as it can embed itself in the very attempts to change the way you think." I also think you're right in saying that defensiveness can be a way to try to avoid feeling guilt, though, in my experience, it also results from challenges to social privilege or identity cohesion - perhaps in these cases it still results from a desire to not confront or experience undesirable emotions associated with recognizing privilege or the destabilizing of an identity category. I also agree that an aversion to guilt is a component of masculinity: 'Real Men' don't feel guilt because they always (and always should) act in their own individual best interest and therefore have nothing to feel bad about (I think that part of it is very much tied up with Classical Liberalism/Hyper-Individualism/Neo-Liberalism and the cultural ideal of the autonomous, masculine Rational Actor). So, yeah, I think there are circumstances under which guilt can be productive, but only when the social norms reinforcing it are actually good ideas for a healthy, happy society for as many people as possible (for example, I think it's productive if people feel a sense of shame or guilt for participating in genocide; I don't think it's good if people feel a sense of guilt or shame about perfectly normal, healthy sexual desires and expressions). Sadly, this is too-rarely the case.