Guilt, Shame: Prelude

I’m going to go pretty deep and personal on this one. This is about guilt and shame, something I have been feeling since I was a child, and something I try not to think about. I think many of us try not to think about the things which make us feel guilt and shame. I know I don’t because I end up not only feeling wrong about the choices I’ve made in my past but also flawed somehow fundamentally. 

It started with deep feelings. I feel something, along the lines of sadness, inadequacy, regret and remorse. When I boil these ideas down, they are guilt and shame. For clarity, a quick google search of the definitions read: 

Guilt – The fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.

Shame – a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

So the question becomes, what do I feel ashamed about? What do I feel guilty of? Why should I or should I even care? The last question of course is moot: I do care or I wouldn’t be writing about it, would I? Someone suggested I should start from the very beginning, address the earliest feelings of guilt and shame and more on from there. 

One day everything changed. Where once I had two parents, suddenly I only had my mother. Where I once had a stable home, I now moved from place to place with her, apartment to apartment, borough to borough for the rest of my childhood.  

I can go on and on and never touch upon the opening event which shook my life, the divorce of my mother and father after 5 or so years of marriage. What was it about this event that shaped me to who I am today? More importantly along the lines of the topic, why does a five year old boy feel guilt and shame about the divorce of his parents? I mean, did I pit one parent against the other and drive a wedge between them intentionally or not? No. Is it rational or logical then to feel like there’s something I could have done to keep them together? I know I didn’t cause the split between my mother and my father, so what’s it going to take for that knowledge to sink into my head and heart? 

There have been other matters I’ve discussed with people, only to be told there was nothing I could have done better or differently. They’ve told me that it’s not my fault. I’m certain anyone who has felt guilt and shame has heard similar answers. Did it make the sense of shame or guilt go away? For me it didn’t. 

People in this world tell us we’re to blame or tell us we shouldn’t feel the way that we do. For thousands of years, women were told they were meant to be at home in the kitchen. People have been told only love between a man and a woman is real for about the same amount of time. We’ve warred over skin colors, beliefs, sex and all sorts of ideas and probably for all of human history, one group has exercised control over another using shame and guilt. 

Just what the hell should we be ashamed of really? Really ponder this idea of feeling bad about something you did or didn’t do, or felt inside. What should we really feel shame and guilt about? Off the top of my head: Starving children, abusing other life forms and shaming others. Shame for feeling and ideas I can’t really buy into any more. 

By sharing, I hope someone out there feeling the way I feel, sees that they are not alone out there. Perhaps reading my own words here in front of me. Transcribing my thoughts and feelings about my shame and guilt mean dissecting the events of my life where I have those emotions. The idea is if I lay it all out on the table, I will start to see that everything is not on me, not everything is my fault. The endstate is that I can accept responsibility for what’s mine, understand what’s not and let go of guilt and shame that is not genuinely mine. 

Guilt, Shame: Prelude

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