"the disease of false guilt . . . the idea that what you feel must be true"
I felt guilty for most of my life. I wasn't sure what I was guilty of, but I knew I must be guilty of something because that was how I felt.
It's taken years of therapy to learn the concept of "false guilt". Feeling guilt is not evidence that I am guilty. In its healthiest form, guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation. So guilt helps us learn to accept responsibility for our mistakes -- that's a good thing. Unfortunately, false guilt leads us to take responsibility for anything that causes us to feel or assume guilt. So the abuse survivor feels guilty for what was done to her or him.
And guilt becomes a way of life.
My kids used to say I felt responsible (guilty) for global warming. It was a joke rooted in truth. Anything, and I do mean anything, that went wrong I felt guilty about. People were using too many disposable diapers and paper towels? Clearly my fault. If I would just cut back the problem could be solved.
My favorite TV show got cancelled? If I just hadn't missed those few episodes while I was taking care of my kids, going to church, helping someone out, or, God forbid, doing something for myself, clearly the show would have survived (and none of those actors, producers, camera operators, directors, make-up artists, etc. would still have jobs).
Man, that is a lot of guilt! No wonder I felt bogged down and driven to despair. Who wouldn't?
For survivors accepting guilt for the abuser's actions provides a false sense of safety. If it (the abuse) was my fault to begin with, clearly I can keep it from happening again. I was in control. I let it happen, so I can stop it from happening again. Magical thinking.
If I recognize that it wasn't my fault, but rather the abuser's fault, then I've lost my safety mechanism. See? It's a warped perspective that functions as self-preservation. The problem is, it's a lie. I can't keep someone else from committing a crime. I can (as an adult) strive to create a safe environment that raises my chances of avoiding another attack, but even as an adult I can't eliminate the possibility of something bad happening.
Letting go of feeling guilty is one of the hardest shifts for most survivors. I know it has been for me. But, it's also the truest path to becoming a survivor.
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