Dealing with Guilt and the First Rule of Happiness
by Burt Goldman
The first rule of happiness is “If you like a thing, enjoy it.”
There are only two reasons not to enjoy something you like; fear and guilt.
Understanding the Feeling of Guilt
More than any other emotion, guilt puts a heavy burden upon us both spiritually and mentally.
Guilt has been laid upon our shoulders by many authority figures - by parents, teachers, and friends; by the media; by our government and our educational and religious institutions.
This burden of guilt is placed on us for two reasons: to control, and/or to punish.
To understand guilt we must first be aware of what precedes and what comes after guilt. For guilt is part of a threesome, accompanied by two fellow travelers, sin and punishment.
Let’s define all three words.
*Sin is a missing of the mark.
*Guilt is a compulsion to repeat an act correctly.
*Punishment is a reminder that comes along when the act is not repeated correctly.
An Innocent Kiss
A brief story illustrates how this trio works together. Helen Moran had been brought up to believe that kissing a boy the first time she went out with him was wrong.
Helen is now twenty-two years old and has forgotten that the original programming of this belief came from her mother when she went to a friend’s birthday party at age eleven.
On every date she is very careful to keep her “principles” intact, and does not allow even the most innocent of kisses.
"...her mother laid down the rules to protect her little girl..."
If she were to remember the incident of the birthday party, she would recall that although excited, she was apprehensive as well.
Her mother was to drop her off at her girlfriend Arlene Alberts house and leave her there.
There were to be a lot of strange boys attending, and this was the first time she had ever attended a mixed party.
As her mother laid down the rules to protect her little girl, Helen felt a bit of confusion about the entire event.
(Apprehension and confusion provide a perfect breeding ground for programming).
“Now, Helen, darling,” her mother began, “I want you to remember that you are a pretty little girl and some of the boys are going to want to kiss you.”
Helen’s eyes opened wide as her mother spoke. She drank in the words from this great authority figure, the source of all the good things in her life.
Every word was accepted as gospel as Helen concentrated, staring into her mother’s eyes.
“If any boy tries to kiss you, you are to walk away from him. Do you understand that?”
Helen nodded solemnly as her mother continued, “What are you going to do if a boy tries to kiss you, darling?”
“I’m going to walk away from him,” Helen responded, emphasizing each word with a nod of her head.
"The line was drawn. The mark set."
Her mother smiled and patted her little girl. “That’s right, dear, walk away.
Remember this always, Helen. Never, ever, allow a boy to kiss you the first time you meet him or on the first date. Remember that and you will always be all right.”
The line was drawn, the mark set. It was sinful to be kissed on the first date.
One day, many years later, Helen meets her dream man and out the window fly her principles.
They not only kiss but go in for some heavy petting as well. She has missed the mark that had been set. She has shattered the commandment set by the great authority figure, her mother.
There’s the sin (so far as Helen is concerned), but where is the guilt?
The next day Helen wakes up with a smile on her face. But then there is a nagging feeling of having done something wrong. She feels uneasy and her mind is split.
On the one hand she feels wonderful, on the other terrible. She starts thinking things like “Loss of respect,” and “How could I allow that?”
She tosses and turns in her bed as she analyzes the previous evening.
Time passes and the fellow doesn’t call back. Helen was all right, but he has many other women friends and she was just an incident in his life, already forgotten.
But Helen doesn’t forget. She is now convinced that he did not call again because of the terrible sin she had committed in allowing him to kiss her on the first date. (That’s her programming, remember.)
And now guilt enters the scene. “Why did I do that?” she thinks. “ If only I could undo it.
But how?” The more she thinks about the incident, the more energy she gives it to strengthen the guilt.
Guilt is a Compulsion to Repeat the Act Correctly
But the act has taken place. How can she undo something that has already happened? She can’t repeat it correctly. She can’t undo what has been done.
And so the third member of the trio comes in to torment her, punishment.
Actually punishment is simply a reminder: Nature’s reminder that the act had not been corrected.
There are many different methods that Helen can use to punish herself for being a bad girl. She chooses food. (Note: All the avenues one chooses to punish oneself are below the level of consciousness.)
Subconsciously she decides to fatten herself up to make herself unappealing to men so it will not be necessary for her to tell them she will not kiss them.
If she makes herself unappealing enough, there will not be many dates with good-looking men and it will be easier for her.
She begins a regimen of eating high-calorie foods and puts on more and more weight.
In the meantime, on the conscious level she is thinking, “I must go on a diet, I look horrible.”
She goes on a dozen diets but nothing seems to work. Finally she rationalizes her new look by thinking something like, “Well, some people were just born to be overweight.” She doesn’t realize that she is caught up in the progression from sin to guilt to punishment.
A Lesson Learned
This story is, of course an oversimplification meant to serve as an example. We must remember that our present society seems to admire the emaciated look seen on so many fashion-magazine covers.
Other countries and other times have considered a bit more meat on the bones to be more desirable and healthier.
We picked weight as an example only because so many people are weight conscious. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.
This example can be seen as symbolic of many other guilt-producing situations.
*What would the kiss represent in your life?
*What would be your equivalent of overeating?
Now let us examine the sin, guilt, punishment trio from a different perspective, one component at a time.
First there is the Sin
An outside agency, such as a parent, an institution (religious or educational), a peer, the government, or the media, sets a mark for you, telling you that this is the way it must be.
If you do not follow the rules that are being laid out for you, it is implied, then you are doing something wrong and you will be punished for it.
Generally these rules are set before a young and growing mind, the type of mind that is most receptive to information.
Upon hearing these rules from the great authority figure, an impressionable child accepts the information as valid, and so all the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” take root.
The young person who does something that violates a rule feels as though he or she has done something wrong — has, in fact, sinned.
Then there is Guilt
Nature has installed within the human framework a great many fail-safe systems, such as intelligence, self-awareness, and guilt.
When we feel that we have missed the mark, that we have done something wrong (sinned), then we experience what has been placed there by nature, a compulsion to repeat the act, but this time correctly.
It is not possible, however, to repeat most sinful acts, which range from the benign sin of eating something that you were not supposed to eat or failing to be nice to your mother’s brother when you do not particularly care for him, to a host of complicated “shalts” and “shalt nots” that have been set by outside agencies.
Finally there is Punishment
These guilts or compulsions to repeat begin to build and are ultimately released in a punishing action.
Unfortunately, the ‘punishment’ does not necessarily fit the ‘crime,’ nor does it absolve the individual.
Punishment is simply nature’s little reminder, her way of saying, “Say, you didn’t do that correctly.” How strong is the punishment? That depends on the degree the individual feels he or she has missed the mark; it is totally relative to the individual.
On the physical plane (and we’re not relating this now to spiritual sin and guilt), a person killing a butterfly may feel more remorseful and carry a heavier burden of guilt than the same person would killing a human being.
For that individual the killing of the butterfly is the greater sin, if he or she believes it to be a greater sin.
For most of us, the reverse would be true, but in any event the degree of punishment sought is relative to an individual’s own perspective of guilt.
Guilt Follows Sin, Punishment Follows Guilt
Just as surely as night follows day, guilt follows sin — and punishment follows guilt.
When the guilt has not been released, then the reminder, punishment, enters the scene, usually in the form of limitations. Individuals with guilt piled upon burdensome guilt tend to limit themselves in life, feeling “I only deserve X…. I only deserve so much money. I only deserve so much good health. I only deserve so much in the way of a home, of a spouse, of friends, of clothing,” and so on.
These are self-imposed limitations that the individual is scarcely aware of, all stemming from unresolved problems.
"The negative effect of guilt is a condemnation of one’s self."
Sin and guilt are imaginary in that they reside in the imagination.
They’re mental. Punishment is mental as well, the difficulty being that while sin and guilt are mental aspects, punishment manifests on the physical plane.
How can you neutralize guilt? You switch your viewpoint. In this case we’re neutralizing the negative effects of guilt. The negative effect of guilt is a condemnation of one’s self. The opposite of self-condemnation would be self-forgiveness. Therein lies the key to overcoming guilt.
To Forgive is to Let Go of the Idea of Punishment
It’s easy to say “Forgive yourself.” But before forgiveness must come understanding.
Know that whenever you do something, whatever it is, you are doing your best at that time. We always do our best.
At no time do you ever go out and say “I’m going to do the worst I can.” Even when you want to do something badly, you still do your best to do it badly.
"The very fact that in the present you might feel you had done something wrong in the past is a measure of your maturity."
Say that somebody you respect asks you to do something. You agree, but don’t do the thing you promised to do, and then you feel guilty about it later.
At the time you didn’t do it there were reasons you didn’t. They may have been subconscious, or they may have been conscious, but whatever they were you can bet that reasons did exist.
Given the same emotional state, given the same circumstances, the same mood, the same you, given the same opportunity, you would have done (or not done) exactly what you did (or did not do) the first time around.
The very fact that in the present you might feel you had done something wrong in the past is a measure of your maturity. You have grown, you have evolved, you are more aware, you are more mature.
Of course, the new mature you looking back at some past error, some past missing of the mark, can say, “That was dumb, why did I do that? I wouldn’t do that today.”
Of course you wouldn’t do it today. You’re not the same person you were then.
With your greater awareness and maturity as resources, you recognize the thing now as an error you will not commit again.
Know this: whatever you do, you do your best. Whatever you did in the past, given your resources of that time, could have been done in no other way. There’s nothing to feel remorseful about. There’s nothing to feel guilty about.
The fact that you do feel guilt is an indication that you have grown to the individual you are now. You may forgive yourself for all of your past “error,” for you are a different person today.
Forgive yourself, for you could have done it in no other way.
Forgive yourself, for you will not do that again; you are more mature.
If twenty thousand angels with twenty thousand Bibles in their hands were to attest to the new you and forgive you for all your past misdeeds, yet you remained unforgiving of yourself, then you would not feel forgiven.
On the other hand, should the whole world condemn you and you forgive yourself, then you would feel forgiven.
The key lies within your own imagination, for this is where sin, guilt, and punishment reside, in that image-making capacity of your mind. Imagine that you have forgiven yourself and you will be forgiven.
Forgiveness is simply giving up the desire to punish.
The Diminishment Technique
If a particular incident is hampering your growth, go to your center and review the event.
Go over it thoroughly just as you remember it happening. Put a frame around the thought and compress the frame until the scene is diminished.
When the frame compresses to the size of a bean, imagine it disappearing in a poof!
Bring the event to mind once again. This time imagine how you would act with your present resources.
Picture the incident with the actions of a new, more mature you. Focus on the scene. You can forgive yourself because you have grown to a new awareness (proof of that is the guilt you felt about the incident in the first place), and with awareness comes the realization that you wouldn’t handle the event in the same way again.
You are your actions. You now have new actions and are a new you.
While in meditation (alpha level) say,
“I forgive myself for all my past actions. I no longer have a need to punish myself."
"From this moment forward, I will be the best me that I know how to be.”
When you come out of meditation, live your life the best way you know how.
Be the best you that you can be.
Continue to use the Diminishment Technique at any time you feel like an event is hampering your growth and feel free to share your progress.
Better and Better,