How to avoid toxic feelings of guilt and shame
As I begin writing this, I feel incredibly guilty and shameful. I won't list all the things I feel guilty and shameful for, because even I don't know, but I know a lot of it has to do with my abandoning the home and religious community I grew up in and not being there for my family, causing them worry and pain. They try so hard with me and I constantly push them away.
It's not all the time, but these feelings come often, usually after any sort of interaction with a loved one. It's like the nicer my family is to me, and the more gifts they buy for me, the guiltier and more ashamed I feel. It seems silly and irrational, because it is. People wish they could have loved ones like mine and yet I'm still running away from it. I even feel guilty and ashamed for continuing to write this blog post, by the way.
Sometimes I just want to disappear, preferably in a gruesome way so that somehow the pain and gore of it would somehow make me the victim and absolve me of all guilt. But of course I would never disappear myself. God, never. That would be selfish toward my loved ones and much too shameful, and I don't think even my corpse could carry the burden of guilt and shame that would follow me if I did that.
When I think about how to help others avoid guilt and shame while doing so myself, I think about all the times I have felt decent and proud, and try to pinpoint what led to those positive feelings. I also did a bit of research for myself, and came up with a few ways to avoid toxic feelings of guilt and shame. It's not comprehensive or anything, but it helps me. Here's what I found:
1. Try to recognize where those feelings are coming from and why.
The first step is doing research. If you know and understand the reasons for your guilt, you're one step ahead of everybody else. Ask yourself what you did that deserves guilt and whether at the time you did the deed you had the option of acting differently.
Every egg's got a chicken, and chances are, if you have feelings you can't even explain they were embedded in you from childhood. Try to understand as much about your childhood as possible. Meditate. Write down what you can remember. See a therapist that might be able to help you retrieve suppressed memories.
Ask yourself what you've done that deserves so much guilt and shame.
2. Rethink your mindset about what you did.
Uncontrollable guilt and shame are feelings of death. I can assure you that nothing you did deserves death. And if it does then just don't bother reading this article because it seems like you might actually enjoy the self-loathing and emotional martyrdom. This article is for people who choose life.
By the way, not choosing life won't make you any less guilty. People who choose life also make better choices, and those better choices help feel good about themselves.
If you want to avoid feelings of guilt and shame, you've got to accept that there is nothing you could have done that justifies choosing death. You've got to make an active decision to nix guilt and shame from your life, because those feelings are both unhelpful and destructive, just like whatever actions you may have already been feeling guilty about.
3. Hold your parents responsible.
Look, I'm not telling you to blame your parents for all your problems, and I'm not telling you to go to their house and shout them down and wake up the neighbors. All I'm saying is that you need to recognize that they came first, not you. They were the ones who brought you into this world, and they were the ones with the duty to protect and nurture you, and that includes your feelings, and they were the ones who, for whatever reason, were unable to give you what you needed.
Guilt and shame are learned feelings. Parents and teachers are the ones who teach us right from wrong, and they're the ones who teach us to feel guilty or shameful for certain actions and behaviors.