Finally I have a life without guilt. Let me explain. From early childhood through a large part of my adult life guilt has haunted me every day. No, I was never evil or did anything terrible to be ashamed of.
It started in early childhood. I was a very conscientious little girl. I tried to do what was right and tried to obey my parents. My parents were brought up in the early 1930’s. Each of them had one very strict parent and one less so. But when they were punished for being naughty they had to go get switches (small branches off of the bush outside the house) and bring it to their parents for a switching. I am not saying to not punish a child when they are disobedient. Sometimes it is necessary. But there are different ways of punishing a child.
As I got older my parents went to spankings. The thing they may not have realized was that this conscientious little girl didn’t need physical punishments. All my parents had to do was tell me they were disappointed that I would do such and such and I felt horrible about myself. I had failed to be a “good girl.” I had failed to obey my parents. I had let them down. All of this weighed on me for a while, probably longer than the spankings did.
Often I guilted myself for some transgression or thought or feeling I had; thinking that through punishing myself by mentally beating myself up, I would learn not to commit the same mistake again. (I think this was a carry over from when I was a child: you do something wrong, you get punished to make you learn not to do it again.) I would worry about how what I said might have been taken the wrong way and caused emotional pain to someone else.
The guilt and self recriminations continued after my husband became sick from progressive diabetes. He was always a bit OCD and later became emotionally abusive at times. I felt like I deserved to be punished for my mistakes because I had “screwed up royally!” I had disappointed him, or let him down. But did I really deserve to be punished emotionally? And did I deserve to be punished emotionally by him? NO to both questions! But the pattern of “crime and punishment” persisted in my mind.
The drive to be “good” became an all consuming passion when I found out there was a Bible verse that said, “Be ye perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.” WOW! How could I ever do that? Later I realized this was an impossible feat! Then as an adult I found out the word “perfect” according to some translations means “complete”. We are to grow spiritually to become complete with God. Finally it made sense.
Given the new understanding of this charge “to be complete” I relaxed and continued my quest to be a good, kind person growing spiritually but with less guilt. I still said and did things I shouldn’t have; I still felt guilty for my failings for days after, depending on the severity of the faux pas I had committed.
As an adult I became wiser and less hard on my self after the first forty years of my life. I started learning to love myself. After all if you are a Christian, there is a verse where Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Hmm. That means we are important and should be kinder to ourselves. We should also be kinder to others too.
I am now healing from my self inflicted purgatory. I now realize that we all make mistakes, misjudgments, spontaneous boo-boos, even unintentionally say things that may hurt someone else’s feelings.
I still am that conscientious person I was as a child. I love people and would never knowingly hurt anyone’s feelings. I try to do what is right because I want to be a loving person and that love helps keep me behaving in a way that is loving.
I also came to the realization that if God can forgive me, shouldn’t I forgive myself? So let’s stop carrying guilt, feelings of unworthiness, or shame around to punish ourselves. There are better ways and healthier ways of learning from our mistakes.