I have a tendency to carry my guilt complex around like a handbag. It goes everywhere with me, whether I need it or not, and usually weighs me down unnecessarily: this is also true of my handbags (which is another post entirely). I’ve carried it around for so long that I don’t even notice I’ve got it. On that note, I take my actual handbags unnecessary places too.
I have a very impressive sense of guilt, if I do say so myself. Sort of like the Louis Vuitton of guilt complexes. It comes in many styles and guises; to get one like it, you’d need to work for years.
My guilt complex has enabled me to feel guilty about a lot of things, for example… accepting offered help, asking a question, leaving somewhere to go home – pretty much anything really. Much like Mary Poppins’ bag, I can pull practically anything out of my guilt complex.
Unlike a handbag, you can’t just purchase a guilt complex – oh no! It is something refined and honed over many a year, until you hardly notice its presence. Sometimes, it’s passed on like an heirloom, generation to generation.
A guilt complex is actually baggage. I’m toting around unnecessary items, weighing myself down (much like my packing for holidays). Last year on my list of 100 things to do were 3 items specifically relating to resisting that feeling of guilt. I had to tell myself not to feel bad about things I shouldn’t feel bad about…and to remove unnecessary items from my handbags.
The trouble with guilt is that it’s a particularly unproductive emotion. I ‘feel bad’, overanalyse my decisions and end up in a quandary over what to do. The guilt doesn’t then help my decision because generally the decision that makes me feel guilty is the right one, so even though I make the right decision, I feel guilty – how’s that for a complex?
Take, for example, accepting an invitation to dinner. I am not a comfort eater. Therefore, if I’m miserable, I don’t eat at all (but merrily eat a lot when I’m happy). So an invitation is duly issued for dinner. Dinner will be in 30 minutes time. This friend knows I will then eat when I otherwise would not have done, and I will have company. However, I feel bad that I am not cooking, that I’m eating someone else’s food, that I’m invading their home…the list goes on… Would I offer the same help to anyone else? Of course! Especially now that I’m happy and therefore eating like a horse. Would I expect someone to take my offer at face value and come and share dinner? Yes! I don’t offer unless I mean it!
So why do I feel guilty? It’s not usually because I have done anything inherently terrible. I’m fairly well behaved, though by no means perfect (I’m not even practically perfect, and here endeth the Mary Poppins analogy). Part of it comes from a well-intentioned desire to please people, and to not do anything wrong, which ironically ends in guilt. I don’t want to put people out, make them go out of their way for me. So I feel guilty accepting pro-offered help. I feel bad over leaving somewhere, even though my time is mine to allot, and they don’t mind. I feel bad for spending time with my family, bad for spending time with friends, bad for spending it by myself – it’s a catch-22. Whatever I do, I catch myself out by feeling guilty.
What I have eventually realised, is that if I have done something actually wrong, what I tend to feel is conviction. Conviction is that inner voice – a little Jiminy Cricket conscience – when you become or are made aware of your sinfulness or guilt. A conviction is something to be listened to, a reminder of what your behaviour should be and that it’s time to change. There’s nothing wrong with being convicted in the internal sense, it is a reminder to assess what you have done and put it right: a helpful, if very uncomfortable, thing. That said, there’s probably a lot wrong if you’ve been convicted by a court, and there’s a lot wrong with a guilt complex. A guilt complex holds you back feeling bad, while conviction can push you forward into improvement.
Are you toting around a guilt complex, or are you feeling genuinely convicted? If it’s the former, leave it at home. Step out the house without it and feel liberated. Work out when you take it with you, do you always take it to the same issues?
If it’s the latter, listen up. I don’t believe anyone was put on this earth to feel permanently guilty. Sometimes this means we need to face up to our decisions and mistakes, me included. Condemnation is a horrible thing to live under, whether it’s someone else, or you condemning yourself, and by holding on to guilt, we condemn ourselves to misery. A big difference between a conviction and a guilt complex in my mind, is that conviction should inspire change, whereas the complex wants you to wallow in unnecessary guilt.
I still don’t want to put people out, but I’ve decided I will accept their offers of help. I don’t need to worry about other people’s perceptions of what I’m doing – if I have good reasons for a decision then that should be enough for me. I’m putting time where I place value, and unpacking my guilt complex one event at a time. I’m reminding it it’s wrong, and doing things anyway. I’m stopping condemning myself. One day, I hope to leave it completely at home; which I hope never to do with a handbag.
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.
Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.” “Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”