Guilt, Stigma, and Five Considerations

by Kathy Custren

Guilt…it can be a real eye-opener to discover that there are those who live, day in and day out, carrying an overbearing burden. As with many things in life, there can be too much of a good thing, which is just as true about guilt, if not more so. When guilt or another person’s expectation becomes extreme, it can also feel very abusive.

Many of us associate guilt with “wrongness,” so guilt carries with it a hefty dose of stigma. Historically, societies used stigma as a form of crowd control. In order to fit into society, people played by the rules. If you went against the rules or acted in a way that was at all ‘anti-social’ you and your extended family were stigmatized, ostracized, and/or excommunicated, becoming noticeably excluded from the rest.

To this day, our need to fit in and be a part of the larger society still carries with it a great deal of weight. We all seek to do the right thing, follow the rules, and play the game to the best of our ability. Many of us feel we are doing the best we can…but what if we are not?

As children, our parents carried the burden of raising us to be good rule-followers, praising us when we did the right things, and punishing us when our behaviors were poor and unwelcomed. Some parents took such punishment to the extreme—instead of loving correction, they doled out heavy-handed doses of physical pain that carried lifelong emotional scars. There is the old saying, ‘Knowledge is power;’ however, it can also be painful. We need to be aware of this without letting it make us too uncomfortable, or too comfortable.

The bottom line is that we are taught to respect others, such as our elders. Whether those others are our grandparents, parents, a religious entity, the police, or hold some other status of importance, there is an emphasis that ‘little us’ carries an expectation of meeting whatever their demands are. We feel humbled and lessened when we have this burden of guilt hanging over our heads. While we may aim to please, it certainly helps to keep larger egos in check.

Describing this feeling of guilt is not often easy, because it often goes unnamed and can be rather ill-defined. For instance, as a young child I can remember the importance of the weekly visit of my grandparents, and how my mother used to dash about and clean up the house before their arrival. Things that had not been touched all through the week were shoved into drawers, dusting was done, the vacuum cleaner ran, and sofa cushions were fluffed up and made neat—all to present a neat picture of cleanliness and welcome. If, for some reason, their visit did not happen, we were left feeling deflated, rather than happy because our house was clean.

This may not be the best example, but it shows that we can do all the right things for the wrong reasons sometimes. This is a truth with guilt…that we carry this burden of expectation around when it might be really helpful and healthier to let it go. Our hearts may harbor just as much negativity when it comes to the word, “shame.” Because the words ‘shame’ and ‘blame’ rhyme so closely, maybe it is no wonder we hang our heads.

–But what about standards and doing the right thing?’ you may ask.

Part of what it means to be an adult, in this or any age of time, is the ability to think and do for one’s self—and to hold our heads up high. It is a sign of maturity, in every culture, to live life in a way that is acceptable, sure—but what about what is unacceptable? Might we see that there can be issues with drawing lines and having acceptable boundaries in life?

These are much larger issues that require some very deep thinking and honesty on one’s part. How much introspective time do we devote to this activity? It ought to be quick and easy, to be able to respect that each of us can draw our own boundaries adequately. However, so many of us find it far easier to issue a burden of guilt from an external source, than to offer the possibility of traveling to an inner point of light and finding the answers we need for ourselves. –Huh? Wait a minute?!

We can easily point to what is broken in the world around us, yet when it comes to acknowledging what is right, what we do right, we have difficulty accepting that. How do we know? Dare we trust our instincts and our feelings when they report back to us? Can we tell how to recognize what ‘right and true’ feels like, without going overboard?

On that opposite side of the coin, people who feel secure in their righteousness are quick to find fault or wrongness elsewhere, in others. If “they” are that wrong, how can they possibly draw proper boundaries? This personal discomfort comes out in behaviors that we may identify as abusive, aggravating, and damaging. It comes back to being able to feel that love and compassion within us—balanced in both directions, really.

We may seek religious solace on a regular basis and feel we are being spiritual when we do so. Yet, many of us decry and deny having an effective working relationship with our spiritual selves. We mistake religious action with spiritual acceptance and compassion—especially of our own doing—because we have been trained over time to be humble and accept guilt. Moreover, we tend to accept what others say is true, or true for them, as being part of our own path—whether we actually agree or not. This is called ‘cognitive dissonance,’ and is a passive-aggressive way to be in life.

Here is a quick list of some things to consider when it comes to guilt and stigma:

Each of us has something that makes us unique--

—and we are perfect in our imperfections. Knowing this means we have every right to hold up our heads so we can see all there is to see, especially when we close our eyes. We look within to judge nobody but ourselves, and we can often be our harshest critic. Do not forget to forgive; and all that starts inside.

Do we embrace who we are to the fullest, or are there things we do that we do not like? What about our loved ones? What about people who are very much different than us, who may speak a different language, have an accent, look unusual in some way? What of those who think differently, behave differently, have chronic “problems” and other issues that otherwise interfere with our own peace of mind? Where do we even begin with our litany of dissatisfaction and perceived ‘wrongs?’

Each of us can find compassion and love within.

Rather than seeking some external reason for feeling anything other than peaceful, placing blame outward on others, it may be a good time to look deep within our own person and find what we love about ourselves. This love is a full, complete, all-inclusive emotion we are born with, fostered in us by our history and heritage, and is our reason for being here.

Once we know that--once we have strengthened our own loving defenses and forgiven any offenses, we are able to extend that love of person outward to others.

We cannot do this if we do not see it first; it would be like talking to a brick wall. That outward blame has a way of making its way around to us for another energetic visit. Again, forgiveness and compassion begins within us. We need to recognize and feel it fully in our heart center then, mindfully, choose to release it so others can feel it too. This is how we achieve cohesion and a deep, true sense of wellness and belonging, when we are all operating on the same wavelength of loving vibration.

Determine the right boundaries for you.

Along with the willingness to say “yes” to the right things, comes the double-duty to say “no” to the wrong things. This is how we achieve healthy balance in life. Just as buying too many things can cause a lot of debt and clutter, agreeing to too many things can also get us into trouble. We cannot predict when things may go wrong; such as, when someone else may choose to harm us in some way, some quirk of fate weasels its way into our experience, or there is an accident up ahead in our road somewhere. We “can” take care of setting good limits for ourselves and sticking to them; or, again, mindfully changing them if need be. Perhaps advertising can be of assistance…we need to “just do it.”

We can heal the hurts of our past.

By ‘past,’ this can mean more than just what happened to you as a youngster. There can be extenuating circumstances in some families that go back generations or cross into other relationships. It may be worth it to find forgiveness with those other aspects of our life where we may have lost touch.

There are exercises and opportunities found nearby or online that can help each of us find balance, close gaps, answer questions, and heal in the best way we see fit, but we must look insightfully, without distraction.

Alone, or in tandem with a knowledgeable therapist or worker, we have the ability to recognize that whatever past ‘faults’ there might be have the opportunity to be released. We do not need to hang on to old misbeliefs, feuds, or hurts that corrode our insides like rust, breaking us down from the inside out. Instead of using our tenacity to inflict further pain, we may choose(!) to be strong in the positive, make a fresh start, embrace renewal/rebirth in our present Now—a gift, indeed.

Decide, going forward, that we seek to be different.

Yes, your eyes did not deceive you…seek to be different. If you are different yourself and embrace your inner essence, the attractive energy in that will bring more differences before you to appreciate—so be ready to be amazed! On a larger scale, it is this very sense of feeling “comfortable with change” that we also need to acknowledge and embrace—instead of being fearful or anxious over it.

Take a few minutes to think, before you walk out the door, about who you might meet where, in passing or in good company, which will help you see the positive goodness of the differences we all carry with us. Join with others who embrace what makes them different and unique—by whatever labels they choose to use—or not use.

Arriving in a place where you feel positive and balanced yourself means you are then in a perfect(ed) place to assist others. Freedom from fear, stigma, guilt, and shame is all within our grasp. It is up to us to achieve it!

Namaste ~ Blessings!

About the Author

Kathy Custren is a mother of four, who strives for balance and has a deep respect for All. Interests include advocacy, the arts, communication, education, health, humanity's cosmic origins, nature, philosophy, spirituality and wellness. Visit her page "Consciousness Live" on Facebook, and her site at



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Comment by Trevor Taylor on May 20, 2014 at 10:46am

Kathy thank you. Recommended to the publishers for inclusion in one of the forthcoming multi-media editionsof OM Times

OM Times Magazine is a Holistic Green eZine with a Spiritual Self-growth Perspective for the Conscious Community.



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