Sunday, 28 May 2006

Postscript on guilt

Following comments to my post Dear Mr Attenborough, thank you. I have agreed with all that others have commented, and others' following posts, and now offer a postscript.

While I was thinking of this postscript, synchronistically my monthly copy of the Quaker (Society of Friends) newsletter arrived along with my Quaker friend. The newsletters contain writings by Friends on their experience and understanding of the human condition, one's ability to live usefully, at ease, responsibly, with purpose. Each edition has something useful or relevant to what has been around for me. The Quaker newsletters are complemented by my ongoing Jungian studies which remind me of the gaps in my maturing process, assist me to relate to others as a mature responsible adult, give insight into situations that I am living unconsciously in, support me to uncover the unconscious contents of my Shadow that continue to trip me up in day to day life and relationships.

My Quaker friend also trained as a psychodynamic counsellor, with Jungian analysis, over a period of many years. So we speak the same language, from the same foundation of understanding, but from our own personal experiences from childhood, parents, relationships, work and community. We talked of responsibility in relationships and that of God that is in everyone. We talked of the synchronicity of our seperate recent life events that led us to talk that day of guilt, where it comes from, what it is, is it ours, when it is and when it is not. We also consumed much cake and pots of tea.

It is my belief that we need to have been able to develop a strong sense of self in order to hold guilt that is appropriate and move forwards with it towards apology, reparation as appropriate, with following redemption of our selves.

Guilt is only the appropriate response if we know we have done something that we know to be wrong, in the small things of daily life and relating, or the larger picture of community or society. It is necessary to know it, in order to repent, apologise, and be redeemed; in our own eyes and in the view of the other. We have to apply mature knowledge of ourselves and society, to an act, an ommission, and acknowledge the harm we have done. In order to know it, we have to be comfortable with the feelings that our own acknowledgement to ourselves first, causes. If we are fragile, or self-protective through necessity, we may not be able to carry the weight of the negative feeling attached to guilt. We may have guilt thrust upon us by outside events that hit us full square, that arrive at our doorstep unbidden, unwelcome. The amount of negative feeling an event brought to our threshold of acknowledging, that we can bear, is dependent on our strength to bear it, not defend against it, but bear it. See it through. If we have not that strength to withstand the negative feeling, we will stop it entering past our boundary, long before it reaches our conscious understanding and acknowledgement. With those useful and maturely arrived at protective boundaries in place, there is no foothold for any inappropriate shame or guilt that individuals, community or society may attempt to lay at our door; when it is not appropriate, when it is not our fault, when it is beyond our personal or collective responsibility.

Also synchronistically, this week one of my regular home helps bashed the vacuum cleaner into pristinely painted door frames, twice. When politely but firmly faced with the evidence of chipped paint and flakes on the carpet; affronted she stated that it was not her and staunchly defended herself, with her own (previously prepared ?) arguments why it was impossible it was her fault. I know from past small events (she takes teabags and half empty boxes of tissues) that she feels un-cared for and put upon. She lives alone and feels freer and safer in England than she did in her home country of France. With regard to my paintwork, it is my understanding that she cannot bear the feelings rushing up from the constant guilt, shame and devastating agony she felt as a child from the nuns at her Catholic boarding school in France. I can imagine that as a child, she did not go through the necessary stage of maturing, supported by loving 'good-enough' parent/s who gave her experiences of acknowledging her minor wrongs, putting minor wrong doings right, time and again through childhood, so that as an adult she can hold the discomfort with herself, when guilt is appropriate, in order to lead her to say: sorry, I will re-paint it for you.

It is a blessing or an achievement, to arrive at mature responsibility for our actions, to move away from guilt that is not appropriate to feel, regardless of who (individuals) or what (society, the media) attempt to impose on us. It is a blessing when we have grown up in a loving good-enough family. It is an achievement if we have worked on childhood harm, to arrive at a strong appropriate sense of self, so that we are able to live balanced lives comfortably, responsibly, in relationships, community and society.

So, Mr Attenborough, don't put it out through the media to individuals. Ask for my support for your argument by all means. Then you use your influence and standing in society to tell the government. Lobby them not me. Shame, or frighten, them into taking action, with your righteous anger, evidence and statistics.

So, parents, don't shirk your responsibility for your childrens' well being, by blaming them for your shortcomings, your discomfort. Don't tell them they are bad, when they are actually confused, afraid, vulnerable, untaught and unloved, unsupported.

So, teachers and authority figures during childrens' and young adults' formative years; control them with love and time and understanding. Share with them your love for your work, not your frustration, give them of your patient time to learn. Understand that when they ask questions, rebel, don't listen, they are testing boundaries to mark out what they are and what they are not, during their important maturing years.

My understanding is that guilt is a personal responsibility; to know and defend when it is not appropriate, to accept and learn and put right the situation when it is appropriate, to bear the discomfort that I have been wrong, because I know I have been wrong. To bear the other's retaliation when the guilt they attempt to put on me is sent straight back.

I must have been dreaming most of this post, because I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote it down while it was fresh in my conscious mind. Now I find that the notes I made don't begin to cover all I thought I had said. So this post feels as though it is missing important bits.

But enough already.



Blogger BloggingMone said...

Hi Sally, there is a lot of truth in what you have written about that catholic school your home help attended. I am from a catholic family, even though we have never been regular church goers or anything, but I went to a catholic primary school. The school was great, but of course they had to include all that catholic stuff, like learning about holy people, the pope, going to church with all of us, etc. We also, at the age of 8, had to go for confession. I don't know, how familiar you are with that, but basically it means that a vicar is sitting in a little booth behind a curtain and you have to kneel down in front of him and confess your sins. He will then forgive you and give you a task, such as praying the chaplet five times (takes ages!) or that like. We have been tought a sin is something we feel guilty for. I remember eight year old me sitting at home desperatly trying to think of something I felt guilty for. I just couldn't come up with anything! In the end I felt that something must be wrong with me because I couldn't feel guilt. It was awful! Finally I went to consult my mom. She just smiled at me and said that she had felt the same at her first confession. She advised me to simply say "I wasn't as obedient as I should have been!" and that's it. It worked out fine.

Wednesday, 31 May 2006 at 14:57:00 BST  
Blogger Sally's Life said...

Thanks Bloggingmone
Organised religion, of whatever flavour, seems to be about control, and Catholicism seems to be the biggest villain.
It is abusive. It does harm.
Thank goodness for those parents who were able to protect against its worst excesses.

Wednesday, 31 May 2006 at 15:04:00 BST  

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