The Nature of Guilt by Jean Kirkpatrick, Ph.D.

Examining guilt... what it is, why we experience it and what we can do about it.  [Jean also recorded a CD on this topic: http://www.wfscatalog.org/Guilt-Feelings-CD-CD109.htm.]

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Review:  This is a really important booklet and I highly recommend it!  Guilt eats away at our self-esteem and our well-being.  I have always carried around a lot of guilt having been raised by a guilt ridden (catholic) mother.  It has taken me many years to recognize the guilt that I took on from her.  It’s hard to witness, even now, when I visit my parents.  She still owns all the responsibility of the house, even though Dad is now retired and they should have equal responsibilities.  Everything is her fault and she is constantly apologizing or scrambling to please him.  Jean describes how women all over the world were saddled with guilt long ago and mostly by the men who benefit from it!  From childhood, we acquire unrealistic expectations of being some kind of “Stepford” wife; perfect in every way.  But who can really live up to that?  Even wives who work as many hours as their husbands are expected to still handle the house and the children.  The wives who do stay home may want to do more and feel guilty for not being the perfect stay at home wife and mother.  Let’s face it, we have made strides, but we still live in a male-dominated world.  Jean talks about some other reasons why we feel guilt; death of a parent or family member, or a divorce, but most commonly we feel guilt because we feel we have failed to live up to expectations; either someone else’s or our own.  All this guilt very often leads women down the path of addiction.  We often try to find an escape from these guilty feelings by diving into a bottle.  This, of course, only adds more guilt, for now we are less capable of handling our lives.  What we really need to do is forgive ourselves for the past and focus on living in the present.  I remember many years ago visiting a psychotherapist for the first time.  She asked me what brought me in and I replied, “I feel guilty all the time.”  I think I was about 22.  I wasn’t living up to my parents expectations (had quit college).  I didn’t have a husband in the works; I didn’t have a passion about anything; I felt a failure at 22; but worse, I felt so guilty about being a failure!  Very soon after that I began to self-medicate with alcohol.  Jean also warns us about projecting our guilt onto others in the form of blame.  She explains that this is where we receive our guilt too, from others.  Starting with our parents and spanning the rest of our lives we hear from others about how we haven’t performed.  Then we internalize it and make it our own.  We replay the tapes in our head, reminding ourselves of our failures.  When we cannot accept any more guilt, we blame others and try to make them guilty so that we can feel better.  This turns us into negative, nagging people.  Jean reminds us that the most important thing we can do to rid ourselves of guilt is to remember Statement #9, “The past is gone forever.”  Focusing on the past is what keeps us mired in guilt.  So let go of the past and remember that today is a new day.  Live in the present and make yourself different today!  When we recognize our guilt for what it is, we don’t have to be victims of it anymore!

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The Nature of Guilt by Jean Kirkpatrick, Ph.D.

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