The Guilt Bind

There seems to be a widespread notion among humans that somehow by shaming, demanding or guilting      ourselves (and others) we can effect change.   In fact the opposite is true. The real truth is that guilt is the glue that holds our painful habits and active addictions in place. There has never been a practicing alcoholic, for instance that was not eaten up with shame and guilt (no matter how hard they may act otherwise) about their using pattern. What they don’t realize is that until they can let go of the guilt around their condition they cannot change it.  Guilt keeps us from accepting the “what is” of our situation – as a matter of fact it is a form of resisting reality.  And our subconscious reacts in an interesting way to resistance.

When we come into a bullying, shaming sort of relationship with the subconscious, it reacts in a backlash sort of way.  According to *Eckhert Tolle, the “law of opposite reaction” gets sets in motion.  In other words the subconscious fights back.  Have you ever noticed that the more someone disapproves of your behavior the more you feel compelled to engage in it? It may be that you sincerely WANT to do better – you may actually even “try” – and fail.  Then you tell yourself that you just CAN’T change and feel terribly flawed and guilty about your weakness.  Maybe the criticism sets up a rebellion in you to which you respond with anger telling yourself that you don’t WANT to change – that, as a matter of fact, you’re going to do it now for spite, if for no other reason. Even then, on some level, there is guilt.  Any way you go when this dynamic is in place it compounds guilt and binds us to the behavior even more than before.

This blaming style of self-interaction is one we practice within ourselves all the time. Begin to listen for your “guilt language”.  For instance, how often do you use the words “should” and “shouldn’t”?  How about judgment labels like “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong”?  These are all guilt producers designed to resist the reality of what is.

Not so long ago, I began to notice the way I talked to myself about food.  I was amazed to discover that I felt guilt over literally every bite I put in my mouth.  It was either “not the right time to eat” or it was the “wrong choice” of food.  I complained to myself that what I was eating was “too fattening” or “not enough protein” or that it had too many carbohydrates or too much sugar, white flour or salt – the negative self-talk went on and on about my eating practices.  Is it any surprise that I continually battled over my weight? So I decided to take radical action.  As an experiment for the next few weeks I gave myself complete permission to eat whatever I wanted with one condition – to put down the guilt about it.  In other words when I felt the urge to comment negatively about my choices I simply reminded myself of the permission I’d given myself to eat what I wanted. The results of my experiment were astounding.  As soon as I gave up creating a negative internal environment for myself through constant criticism I felt better.  This allowed me to stay present while I ate. Being present made it possible for me to make conscious choices that led to healthier decisions about my food intake.  I found myself eating less; but more than that – I actually started savoring what I ate.  And yes I ate chocolate! But, instead of half a box at a time I found I was content to eat one small piece after a meal.  Because there was no guilt I could relax and enjoy every precious morsel and be satisfied with that.  Because I was feeling inner harmony rather than guilt I found myself wanting to feed myself better, i.e. make healthy choices. I was no longer running to hide (i.e. go unconscious) every time I ate.  Instead I found myself consulting my body around mealtime – asking what would truly satisfy it.  I found that in the absence of negative self talk my food choices began to change. I truly WANTED to eat healthy foods with enjoyment! My weight began to stabilize but even better, the sense of inner peace that comes with self-acceptance settled in.

This important time of discovery helped me realize the potency of guilt. I realized that when we treat ourselves poorly we abandon ship – we literally check out. That means we are no longer living in the present moment – we go unconscious.  We have what might be called a “zombie moment”. In that state we act mindlessly and then, of course our choices will not be necessarily what’s best for us. Easing up on guilt and self-negativity allows us to align with what is truly in our best interest if for no other reason than because we feel better about ourselves.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a good example of how self-acceptance works. What is the first thing an alcoholic encounters when he finally finds his or her way into an AA meeting?  What happens there probably feels unbelievable to the newcomer.  For what she sees is a room full of other self professed addicts who are announcing OPENLY that they are alcoholic and that their lives are unmanageable! What she finds is complete acceptance within those walls – of each other and themselves, as suffering alcoholics.  What the fledgling addict finds is an acceptance of what is – without recrimination, moralizing or guilt about her “problem”. It may be the first time in her life that this alcoholic has encountered acceptance around something that has heretofore caused deep shame. Amazingly enough, these fellow addicts are smiling and often joyful about a plight that the newcomer has been trying to hide! Such acceptance allows space – space for the addict to step back and see the reality of his or her situation without denial.  (Denial is a form of unconsciousness that always follows on the coat tails of shame and guilt.) From that space he or she is able to make appropriate choices because they are in a position to better see their reality (including factual consequences of past choices) without blame or shame.  But the space resulting from self-acceptance also allows something even more important to take place.  It creates room for the flow of Source to take place in the addict’s life. In AA it’s verbalized in the third step, “Made a decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of God, as we understood Him”.  When we accept ourselves just as we are – warts and all, we create the space for alignment with a Universal Partner that can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Going unconscious keeps us from being plugged into the Awesome Source of Power that is available only in this moment. Much the same way that a lamp can only shine when it’s plugged into the electrical current, we can only be “alight” with consciousness when we are plugged in to that Source that provides us with vital life giving and healing substance.  Connection automatically happens when we come back to this moment.  I remind myself constantly of Eckhert’s simple and yet profoundly true statement, “Life can only happen in this moment.” In other words, only the present is real.  Neither past not future exist, they are but figments of our imagination. By definition then, the aliveness of Source can only be found and aligned with in the NOW. If I’m lost in a self-remorseful past I’m missing this opportunity to align with the One Thing that can heal. When I am plugged into that Source I am available for prompting. When I am connected, that God Force (or whatever you choose to call it) inspires me to choose wisely that which will truly serve me best.

The example given about AA is relevant for every one of us whether we struggle with some form of chemical abuse or not.  We are all attached or addicted to some kind of false and painful belief about ourselves that limits our life expression – it’s not a matter of whether we are but more of what forms our addiction takes. Most of us have bought into a story on some level that convinces us that we are defective, inept, unable to do anything right – basically unacceptable and unlovable.  Beneath the surface of consciousness we are constantly talking to ourselves about these inadequacies, ever reminding ourselves of this “truth” and looking for evidence of it.  Guilt is the binding force that reinforces these painful and limiting ideas about us. Through this negative inner dialogue we actually perpetuate feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem which drives us further into unconsciousness and out of the here and now.  Not only do we then feel worse but also by doing so we are disconnecting ourselves from the One Source that can alleviate and heal the situation. Only through releasing guilt are we able to come back into our bodies, abide in present reality and authentically unfold into the unique selves we were meant to be.


These articles are copyrighted material. All rights are reserved. No part of these articles may be reproduced by any means or in any form whatsoever without first obtaining the written permission of the author.  Permission for reproduction may be requested by contacting Lynne at Another Way Center: (423) 698-0814.


5 Responses

  1. What if, I made a life changing decision, like to get married, but after I changed my mind… because of circumstances that weren’t bad but I was not prepared how to deal with them…so I left the marriage, and I now regret it. I live in guilt… and think I should go back…should I?

    1. Dear Ana,
      There is no absolute right or wrong here. I love your honesty with yourself … have you been able to be that honest with your estranged husband? Whatever prompted you to take space needed to be brought to your awareness for healing to be possible – if it took leaving for that to happen, then I trust that. I encourage you to ask your spouse if he is willing to go with you to a counselor to begin to sort out whatever your issues are … and then go from there.

      Forgiving yourself is an essential part of the healing process … to forgive ourselves means we take responsibility for our behavior, and seek to understand why we acted as we did. One thing we can trust is that we do what we do (only always) because we believe what we think – there is no other reason…

      The Reality Formula says, “When we believe what we think, we automatically feel and act as if it’s true… and when we act as if what we believe is true, we will act in ways that bring us the evidence to back our belief.”

      The question to ask yourself is, “What was I believing that prompted me to leave my marriage? When I believe it, how do I feel? How do I act? Do I know for certain that my unhappy story about my new marriage are true? (see the 4 questions and turnarounds at http://www.thework.com)

      Be as forgiving towards yourself, as you are honest with yourself, and the answers will come.
      Blessings, Lynne

  2. lynne, just finished reading the guilt blind article. it is so true! it was just what i needed to read today and needed to be reminded of! thank you

  3. Thanks for sharing your feedback, Jaleo.

    Every organization, including AA has its shadow side, that’s for sure! … And, you are right to notice that simply giving up pills & alcohol will not guarantee sanity, kindness, or altruism!

    In a mind where distorted thinking rules, regardless of whether or not there is abstention from mood-altering chemicals, there cannot be peace or true mental/emotional healing until one’s “stinking thinking” is rectified. The very nature of the thoughts we believe determines the sort of people & life circumstances we attract into our life.

    The world is a mirror that simply reflects our own belief system; we attract into our lives the people who operate out of a similar belief system as our own, & who support our thoughts & beliefs regardless of what kind of organization we belong to (we will find a wide array of personality types, & degrees of wellness in every organization!).

    With that said, I would conjecture that AA is not the cause of your early experience w/ your mom… it’s more likely that your mother simply attracted to herself (& was attracted to) those in AA who would reinforce & validate her own painfully limited ideas about herself, you & your siblings, & the world in general.
    Blessings, Lynne

  4. AA was the refuge my alcoholic borderline mother took to convince herself that “she was perfect because she didn’t drink [or take pills] anymore.” The people she brought into our lives from that organization abused us kids and enabled our mother’s behavior. One of them even took it upon themselves to “assure me that my mom loved me even when I was an abusive teenager,” after mom’s funeral. Rest in peace with all your AA chips, Mom. They are the only ones mourning you out of your offspring.

    I am glad that some people get their lives straightened out through AA. I am sure that many others have experienced what I have. I know that if I become an alcoholic I will NEVER go to AA.

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