“Good Guilt/Blame & Bad Guilt/Blame” (Part 1)

(An excerpt from Walking a Fine Line: Being Professional in the New Age, a book I wrote in the early  90′s that’s been living in my closet.)

Many New Age people think all guilt is bad, and that the best way to deal with guilt is to eliminate it as quickly as possible by replacing it with more “spiritually sound” thoughts and feelings. 

They believe the same about blame.  In many ways, they make a good point!


Guilt and blame happen to be two of the most misinformed, misdirected and misused thought forms on the planet, causing much destruction.


Yet I am here to advocate for an occasional and slightly different perspective.


While guilt and blame are almost always based on misunderstandings or illusions, there are some kinds (or degrees) of guilt and blame that are ‘better’ than other kinds.  I’ve also found that while it is rarely helpful to overly obsess about one’s guilt, guilt is a mental and emotional state worthy of exploration, and sometimes cooperation.


Similarly, experimenting with conscious acts of projection (blame) can be a useful and educational part of the growth process for many people — as long as they do not get stuck there.


In many cases, paying attention to these two New Age no-nos need not lead to their uncontrollable growth.  In fact, noticing and making space for guilt and blame can sometimes be just what is needed to help them shrink into nothingness, or be transformed, naturally.


If spiritually-oriented professionals and self-developers can approach guilt and blame with a certain degree of curiosity, appreciation and respect, these forbidden feelings, thoughts and related acts can eventually lead us all to the discovery of valuable and buried treasures.


Let me tell you what I mean by first discussing how a basic knowledge of the shadow’s role in the psyche can shed light on the hidden gifts of guilt and blame.


Where the Shadow comes in…


Just as those who tend to consciously identify as guilty people have shadows full of blame, those who tend to consciously identify as innocent victims have shadows full of guilt.


To help people become psychologically whole and develop more realistic, balanced pictures of themselves and the world around them, it is often necessary to help them work with and integrate the repressed aspects of their personalities.  When dealing with guilt and innocence, the repressed personality part in need of integration will either be the “guilty” part or the “innocent” part, depending on the person.


Jung liked to talk about introverted personalities and extroverted personalities.  According to his theories, extroverted types tend to project their own feelings and opinions onto the world around them.  They experience their unconscious qualities or feelings in other people.  Unaware that they themselves contain the very same tendencies or qualities, they either admire, dislike, credit or blame the people living out their unconscious parts.


When it comes to guilt, extroverted people tend to feel more comfortable blaming others than they do assuming guilt or responsibility themselves.  For such people, part of the healing process may require that they take projections home, that they acknowledge and eventually integrate their own responsibility.  Since the Western world tends to promote extroverted thoughts and behavior, many people in “civilized” society tend to have extroverted traits and could use this lesson.


Perhaps in response to our Western culture’s tendency to project and separate, the New Age, like other Eastern traditions, has focused on identifying and connecting.


Thus, a large portion of New Age teaching (think EST) aims to assist people who are stuck in blame to leave victim consciousness and take more responsibility for their inner and outer lives.  Many New Age students, especially beginners, need such teachings.  For people who tend to hold everyone other than themselves responsible whenever something goes wrong in their lives, it can be valuable to learn how to take projections home, to stop blaming.


When people who are used to blaming others for their pains are confronted with the fact that they themselves have been co-creators of their misfortunes, they can feel guilty.  They realize that the parents they have been blaming their entire lives are only human; they see how they have contributed to some if not all of the conflicts they have experienced; they begin to understand how their own attitudes, thoughts and expectations have brought out the worst in people and diminished their own coping skills.  Their eyes are opened to their own imperfections and blind spots, and perhaps for the first time in their conscious lives, they hold themselves responsible for what has happened, and for what is still happening in their daily lives.


During this awakening process, it is only natural that such people feel guilt and regret for ever having blamed or allowed anyone else to carry responsibility for them.


Most New Age professionals know that on a spiritual plane, these (and all) people are fundamentally innocent, have done their best, and that their newly discovered guilt is not the ultimate Truth about them.


Because of this knowledge, it can sometimes be difficult for these professionals to see the potentially positive aspects of guilt-ridden states.  Such professionals often feel tempted to encourage their clients/students to instantly replace their guilty thoughts with innocent ones.  While this might be spiritually sound advice, from a psychological perspective this kind of encouragement can deprive those they serve of important lessons and integration-bringing experiences.


When New Age professionals can understand and trust in guilt’s positive psychologically balancing role in the developmental process, they become more equipped to support such “extroverted” clients/students on their paths towards wholeness and greater clarity.  If New Age helpers are able to hold the ultimate vision of innocence while allowing those they serve to experience, at least for a while, their own guilt, a safe and non-judgmental environment is born, a valuable gift for clients/students.


The guilt experienced by a former blamer can be seen as a primitive form of responsibility.  If accepted and properly explored, this kind of guilt can lead to the discovery of a healthy conscience, a more balanced perspective, as well as a more realistic understanding of how co-creativity works.  So this “good guilt” or “higher form” of guilt comes as a sign that psychological growth is taking place.


If you are a healer or alternative professional working with a client who is experiencing this kind of guilt, I invite you to make space for the guilt instead of pushing it away.  Know that your client can benefit from discovering that she has been holding others totally responsible for her own happiness, or lack thereof, an important realization.  Allow it to do its compensatory work without too much interference.


Eventually, if or when you can sense that the pendulum is beginning to swing its way over to the other extreme — to an overinflated sense of responsibility — you can then gently bring this person back into balance, sharing all of your spiritual wisdom about co-creativity and everyone’s ultimate innocence.


Unlike extroverted people, introverted people can find it difficult to project their conscious and unconscious feelings and opinions onto others or the world around them. 


Instead, they tend to keep or draw to themselves whatever exists or happens within them and outside of them. When it comes to the subject of guilt, they tend to absorb it as opposed to push it out.  If something goes wrong, for example, or if someone does something they do not like, they quickly take the blame and interpret what has happened from their internally centered perspectives.


While extroverts deal with tension by expressing themselves or releasing energy, introverts hold onto the tension in their bodies, often forcing it to manifest through disease or blocks.


While beginning New Age students often demonstrate extroverted traits, many experienced New Age students come to develop and exhibit introverted tendencies.


For years, devoted New Age students hear and learn the same lessons repeatedly:  that they cannot see anything outside of themselves which does not already exist within them, that blame and guilt are nothing but illusionary and disempowering responses to potentially healing situations, and that they are ultimately responsible for what they think, the choices they make, and the way they respond to every situation.


It only makes sense that such ambitious New Age students become experts at taking projections home, at taking full responsibility for themselves and their lives.


Unfortunately, it seems that many of these students take “personal responsibility” to the extreme, using their spiritual knowledge to perpetuate old patterns of self-blame.


Refusing to assign blame to anyone else, and attempting to take full and absolute responsibility for their lives, they end up confusing responsibility with guilt.  Instead of taking responsibility for their share of what happens and allowing others to do the same, they take the entire world on their shoulders, beating themselves over the head any time anything unfortunate happens.  Convinced the world is their mirror, they reject the thought of holding anyone other than themselves accountable for a shared negative experience.


Although their words and attitudes exude responsibility, their actions (or lack there of) reflect their internalized guilt and fear.  They are terrified of the potential consequences which might come from taking true responsibility, the ability to respond.  They neither acknowledge co-creation nor speak out against external forces even when speaking out could bring about a needed and positive change.


Instead of acting on what they see, they instantly convert the outer picture into an inner one, dismissing the possible external validity of their observations.


Many dedicated New Age students become guilt vacuum cleaners, subtly blaming themselves for everything that happens.  In their attempts to assume personal responsibility, to be loving and to attain spiritual perfection, they pile layers of guilt onto their martyrly mounds.  Ironically, their exaggerated sense of personal power actually disempowers them.


Such students must be supported in validating at least some of their projections in order to achieve greater psychological wholeness.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this… What has your experience of Guilt and Blame been like? How has your relationship to these states of being/thinking changed over the years? What have you learned?


(To be continued!)




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