I don’t “do” guilt the way you & your brother do. Sure, I’ve experienced it; but it’s just not a lifestyle choice for me.
Someone once said this to me and I thought it was pretty funny. And while I vaguely recognised myself in the accusation, I was more interested in the main point being made — that guilt might be optional.
Like all emotions guilt has an evolutionary purpose. Guilt is the cloak of our conscience and without one we’d be unable to construct moral codes and the societies, governments and laws that require them.
Going back to the Feeling Wheel, I was initially surprised to see that guilt is a shade of sadness. I get that a sadness lurks under guilt, but I’ve always associated it more with fear, with anxiety and with weird circular thinking.
I’m talking about personal guilt. Not the legal kind or even the social kind (where we break or fear we have broken a social norm.) The personal variety stems from violating our own standard. I think that’s why it’s so much more prevalent — because left to our own devices, many of us build up hard-to-live-by expectations of ourselves. (Which we eventually blame on our parents!)
Speaking of parents, there’s another kind of guilt that gets muddled up between social and personal guilt. It’s terrifically vague and ghost-like in the way it moves about. I call it Ancestral Guilt — I’m referring to middle class guilt, and the white middle class kind, Catholic guilt and the Irish Catholic kind, Jewish guilt (which while more neurotic than most, is also loads funnier — see for example this definition of a Jewish Guilt Trip) — and while there may be fractions of this guilt that stem from our own actions, most of it is inherited from what others have done or worry they’ve done or have been accused of doing.
There’s probably more branches of this sort of guilt than I’ve named, but these are the ones I know. These culturally ingrained social guilts trigger deep down personal guilt that’s often difficult for us to pin point but is present nonetheless, walking around with us, however quietly.
For years psychotherapists have argued this — that we carry the guilt of our ancestors. I’m sure a bunch of geneticists are somewhere right now hunting for biological proof to back this up. If we can pass on our intelligence and even our sense of humour, why not guilt?
This is the subject of this weekend’s blog — the phenomena of guilt. Stay tuned, unless you have better things to do and have absolutely nothing to feel bad about … in which case, don’t mind me — just go ahead and enjoy yourself.
Everyone else — see you tomorrow!