Thursday, October 3, 2013

Was your mother the tour leader on all your guilt trips?

It has often been claimed but the truth is you were your own guilt trip tour leader and you still are. That's not quite right either. You are the tour leader on your shame trips. Let me explain.

Guilt is good and has a right purpose.
The facts about guilt.
1. It is not an emotion
2. It is a state.

When the judge says a criminal is guilty of a crime he or she is saying, 'You did this thing and it is now declared.' The convicted person is not required to feel anything. Their feelings have nothing to do with the legal state in which they find themselves. The criminals can feel remorse or continue to protest their innocence, their desire for revenge, their having been provoked or misled, but that doesn't change a thing about their guilt. They have been pronounced as having done the deed. Thus they are guilty.

It's the same for you. The police officer pulls you over and says your blood alcohol reading is over the limit, and that's it. You are guilty. You broke the law. No feeling required, but thank you very much for the offer. Ah, but you cry, 'I feel so guilty.'  No. You feel annoyed, angry, embarrassed, humiliated, fearful of others finding out, apprehensive of losing your license and getting the fine. You can't feel guilt. You can only accept it or reject it but it doesn't change a thing. You done it! Hopefully the effect of the guilt pronouncement will induce you to act responsibly about alcohol.

Guilt's purpose is to rectify things
Your mother found you'd pinched 5¢ from her purse. She announced you were guilty of theft and reprimanded you. The idea was to make sure you didn't grow up as a bank robber. She intended you to correct your course, change your ways or in Biblical terms, 'repent'  which is to say, change your mind and thus your behaviour.

Shame is bad even though it's comfortable
If your mother repeated the story to Aunty Molly in front of you to grind it into you, or introduced you to Grandpa as the naughty boy who wants to be a thief when he grows up, she opened the trapdoor to shame. She didn't think you would go through, but you were unskilled in dodging the trapdoor and fell in. After a few more falls, you began to see yourself as untrustworthy or even unworthy of even having such a wonderful upright mother. You fell through this trapdoor so many times you ended up building a cubby house there and to this day you slip in there for safety because that's where you know yourself best. You know you belong there because you failed at school, had no friends, bombed out at sport, got fat, couldn't control your temper, never got picked first for games, got dropped by a sweetheart, didn't win any awards at work and pretty much all because people like you don't have any luck.

Your boss says your sales are down. That's a fact. That's guilt. They are supposed to be this and they are that instead. You are supposed to say, 'Yes I am guilty of that. I hear you. You've stated the facts as they are your honour, so I will pick up the phone or make one more business call today and go about my duties more earnestly'. Instead you pop through the trapdoor into your cubby house of shame and start your usual dopey conversation with yourself. 'That's because I am no good at my job or with people. And if I had any luck I wouldn't have ended up working for this jackass or with these clients.  I try but no-one ever listens to me. My life sucks. If I was supposed to be rich or successful or happy I would have been by now. Pass me a tissue. No? A drink then. No? Ok, a pill. That's ironic. A pill for a pill like me.' 

My Kick in the Pants for you: Tear down the shame cubby house (it's not even a real house!), walk back up the steps, nail the trapdoor shut and when next confronted with a truth about your behaviour not quite measuring up, say, I am guilty of that and I won't do it again.