Ann surely needs help in dealing with severe guilt. A few years back, she swung out on to the outer lane to overtake a slow moving van and collided head on with an oncoming truck. Her husband was killed on the spot and her son was paralyzed waist down. Years later, her sense of guilt continues to blame her cruelly over her fatal error of judgment. A feeble and pained voice within her keeps rejoining with the truth - that it was just a momentary mistake, which could have happened to anyone.
It was just one thoughtless, but awful mistake. Each time Ann opens her front door and feels the emptiness, each time she glimpses her child on the wheelchair, the painful voice returns, hurting her with its relentless logic. Her stern guilt and despair poison her career and the upbringing of her son, transforming her life into a living nightmare. In dealing with severe guilt, Ann needs to get her shattered life back to even keel. She needs to realize that she can learn to control the evolutionary neural mechanisms, which torture her. She can calmly come to terms with her guilt, which is merely a social emotion, triggered by her nervous system, to control her behavior.
Dealing With Severe Guilt - Emotions Controlled Animal Behavior
As Ann's nervous system evolved over millions of years, nature developed increasingly complex control systems to enable survival. The early reptilian brains responded to smells, or to fear and anger. Smells decided whether an object could be approached or avoided. Fear and anger decided whether the animal should retreat, or attack. Those control decisions supported individual survival. Further evolution led to the mammalian brain, where social emotions controlled herd behavior. Guilt and shame punished any selfish behavior, which broke the moral code of the group. The emotions triggered drives, which opposed unsocial actions and compelled members to act for group benefit. Pain, at the prospect of social rejection, became wired into the system.
Dealing With Severe Guilt - Guilt Causes Pain
Eisenberger's research at UCLA confirms activity in the neural pain circuits, when a person suffers social rejection. A person suffers pain, when damaged skin cells cause nociceptors (pain nerve cells) to fire. Such pain processing is reported to have two parallel channels. The first causes the sensation of pain and the second, a feeling of being “hurt.” The “hurt” experience is more disagreeable than the pain sensation. Fear compels an animal to escape from, or to avoid a source of pain.
To enable animals to remember and avoid pain, “speed dial circuits,” persist over the years in the amygdala, the organ associated with fear. Those circuits trigger distress, when they recognize any pattern remotely linked to original source of pain. Eisenberger suggests that the same circuits are activated in the case of guilt. Ann cannot run away from her misjudgment. So, the drive triggers internal voice circuits, accusing her of her guilt, on recognition of any associated pattern. When dealing with severe guilt, Ann needs to understand the reality that pattern recognition and speed dial circuits are also the reasons for her punishment.
Dealing With Severe Guilt - Common Sense Is Ann's Conscience
Evolutionary development led to RI, the prefrontal human brain. Scientists are surprised that a bunch of nerve cells can have a conscience. But, they acknowledge the vast extent of knowledge in the DNA molecule in each living cell in the human body. If inscribed into 500 page books, the programmed DNA codes in the human body will fill the Grand Canyon 50 times over with those books! Nerve cells contain similar masses of code in their combinatorial codes.
The prefrontal brain contains the accumulated wisdom of millions of years and the memories of a lifetime of sensory and emotional experiences. That brain has the wisdom to know what is right and wrong in the vast turmoil of human relations and social responsibilities. When RI tells her that she made a wrong decision, which caused grievous harm, RI is right. That judgment of RI triggers her overactive guilt and pain circuits. But, her RI will also tell her that that mistake could have been made by anyone. That she should accept her error and move on. In dealing with deep grief, Ann should understand that the speed dial circuits always enhance her pain and still the small inner voice of RI reason.
With Severe Guilt - Self Awareness Is The Key
Ann can never hope to argue with her feeling of guilt and win. In reality, her actions were wrong. But, she can switch off her guilt circuit. She can use a foible of the nervous system - when the attention of the mind is directed to the onset of an emotion, the emotion is instantly stilled. The attention of the mind is the attention of RI.
Normally, when an emotion takes over, RI is only an observer, who feels the pain. But if you consciously begin to observe your mind, RI will take over. It will be able to see the onset of thoughts triggered by lower level animal emotions from the mammalian part of the triune human brain. RI will become able to identify the sharp accusing voices of guilt and still them through mere observation. It is similar to the age old advice to count upto ten, before you speak harshly. Shift the attention of your mind and anger will disappear. Ann should know that self awareness will not come overnight. In dealing with severe grief, it will require observation over a period of time for her to become familiar with her troubling thoughts, just the way she knows her annoying acquaintances.
Dealing With Severe Guilt - Put Common Sense In Charge
The Buddhists discovered the path of self awareness and mindfulness meditation, which grants control of your mind to RI, your common sense. It is a powerful investigative intelligence, which “sees the flower as being neither beautiful nor ugly.” To an unemotional RI, it is just a flower. The mind control tips in this website suggest a few mental and physical exercises to put RI in charge. Those exercises can still your animal instincts, with their speed dial circuits, which respond to every hint and shake you around like a puppet on a string.
In time, the practice of those routines will transport your mind to a calm neutral territory. In successfully dealing with severe guilt, these practices can enable Ann to live sensibly with her disastrous mistake. With its immense inherent wisdom, her RI knows it was a mistake. It also knows of the fallibility of humans and of the need to move on beyond disaster. Ann will view of the problems ahead and the mistakes of the past to be “like birds in the sky.” They are there, but do not matter.
Dealing With Severe Guilt - Practice Self Compassion
The love emotion activates the affiliation network, which can still the pain of guilt. Self compassion training grants sufficient control of the mind to enable a practitioner to consciously switch on the network. The initiation creates a powerfully positive attitude. A loving acceptance of the pain of the self takes place. The guilty person will feel compassion for the poor suffering self, which will act to reduce the pain of guilt.
With Severe Guilt - Remember That Guilt Also Helps
A stable social life requires ways to deal with conflicts and events in which people inadvertently (or even purposefully) harm others. If a person harms someone, guilt causes him to express regret and sorrow and is likely to be forgiven. In this way the chances of retaliation are reduced and the community fares better. A person, who feels no guilt is likely to harm others and be destroyed, in the end, by society. At one time or another everyone makes a mistake, commits an error of judgment, or says or does something wrong.
Self awareness can make each person listen to the voice of conscience. Remember that it is an immensely wise intelligence, which triggers your feeling of guilt. Act to remedy the situation. Apologize to the person and express your sorrow at your error. Avoid repeating the behavior. Each such incident will improve your sensitiveness to people and prevent serious deterioration of your personal relationships. You may not be dealing with severe guilt. But you can use guilt as your wise guide and counselor to grow, learn and mature.
Dealing With Severe Guilt - Empathy Also Triggers Guilt
Our minds contain a neural subsystem, which senses the feelings of others and makes us feel the same emotions. These neurons are called mirror neurons. This system makes us feel the sufferings of others and triggers the compassion emotion. The emotion triggers a drive to make us act to mitigate the suffering. When we are unable to help, feelings of guilt are triggered.
People, who are sensitive to these feelings are likely to be cooperative and to be altruistic. But, they also are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Such suffering is intensified by the conviction of RI, their common sense, that it is their duty to help. Peace of mind can come only when RI systematically evaluates all options and makes a competent value judgment for the circumstances around each such periodic pang of guilt, which overtakes them. Each person has to make a choice about the extent of altruistic behavior that can be afforded in the turmoil of every day life.
Dealing With Severe Guilt - Deal Also With More Subtle Guilt
The self improvement plan in this website offers a method of handling the subtle emotions, which may trouble you. Once you practice self awareness, you will slowly become aware of discomfort over some event during the day. To follow this plan, you can write down all your thoughts about this issue the way you would write a shopping list. Your mind has the capacity to search through its vast memories to bring you all the thoughts around this concern. The plan offers a way to organize these thoughts and enable your RI to understand your concern.
it down will bring out the many conflicting views within your mind.
The plan enables you to make your choices. Knowing the rationale of
your choice will prevent this sense of guilt from coming up again.
You will not feel trapped. Your RI will have understood and made its
choices. Your behavior will slowly be modified to meet your decision.
When dealing with severe guilt, it is also important to tone down
such feelings, which may run in your subconscious.
Dealing With Severe Guilt - Guilt About Your Bad Habits
Your common sense , RI, knows whether you smoke, or eat too much. It knows that regular exercise is good for you. You feel guilt, when you act against the judgment of your common sense. You may have always intended to break your bad habit, or to begin good ones. Yet, when you get down to it, you lack the will power. Actually, you fail in this conflict between RI and your animal instincts, because emotions control your life. Your nervous system always switches control to your most powerful emotion. When hunger pangs, a need for a smoke, or sheer tiredness overcomes you, you will give in to one of these habitual weaknesses.
But, self awareness can still an emotion. If you become conscious of the emotion, it will be stilled. Do not argue with an emotion. When you are about to indulge yourself, think “what do I feel?” instead of thinking “I should not do this.” Recognition of the physical symptoms of the emotion, which misdirects you, will kill the emotion. Your guilt is continually warning you. Use self awareness to take control of your life. These practices will always assist you, even as you work on dealing with severe guilt.
This page was last updated on 31-Dec-2013
I really loved the self improvement plan post. Its great food for thought and the steps are actually actionable as compared to many other self help sites out there.
Joe Glen USA.
As a clinical therapist, I have found your site very useful!
I love it. ...
Andrew Montgomery USA.