The sense of guilt is dumb. It does not tell him he’s guilty, he does not feel guilty. He feels ill. – Freud, 1923
I have been taking a close look at guilt lately.
I had an episode of suicide ideation. Now, before you freak….lemme explain. Suicide ideation is NOT the same as someone actively wanting to or attempting to take their own life. I know that I would never take my own life. When those thoughts start popping up in my head, it’s time to run for safety. Suicide ideation is a symptom; actually, it is more like a bright red flashing warning sign. It is a low point (understatement) where your thoughts can find no escape and you arrive at a logical (yet false) conclusion that the world would be better off without you. It is a complication of depression, PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) and some persons with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) will experience this at some point.
*** end of trigger warning***
My suicide ideation developed from paranoid ideation.
There are some scary words for things that persons face regularly, silently but overcome every single day.
I began to wonder if everyone I knew in my community hated me or thought badly of me (paranoia). This led to me focusing on all my negative characteristics that would offend people. This thought then led me to remember actual statements that persons have made which confirmed this belief. I went on an on in a battle of my mind (as lopsided as it was) until I arrived at the conclusion that I have been really monstrous and then to a point of hopelessness.
I had had the experience of suicide ideation before and was able to immediately recognize it, kick at it with some positive affirmations and wise mind skills. However it left me wondering about the guilt that had created this furious storm in my mind and to question whether or not it had really been resolved.
Spiritual progress is like detoxification. Things have to come to the surface in order to be released. Once we have asked to be healed them our unhealed places are forced to the surface. – Marianne Williamson
Being true to myself (along with a desperate desire to live) I dug in research mode. Oh yeah…. slipped the reading glasses on and got to Googling… hehe.. I found an article describing the thin line between healthy guilt (true contrition and remorse for doing something) and Shame.
After reading for awhile I still wasn’t getting any relief from my pent up feelings. I went on to read about the importance of forgiving oneself etc etc etc… Now, my research of a topic is never linear. I often find insight and tiny glittering beacons of hope and healing in the strangest places. This time was no different. I also usually end up with a number of colorful strings which upon closer observation inevitably entangle with each other.
First thing I did was to reach out. To receive validation and also to avoid being alone, I spoke to my mother and sister about it. They were not only able to give me fresh perspective (which was probably smothered in biased love for me; helpful nevertheless) but also to ensure me that the comments that triggered me would have affected them in the same way – validation, I badly needed.
Voicing my feelings to people I feel safe with always helps a great deal. Once, I shared my feelings of hopelessness with someone and the person sent me a note later in the day to say they were glad I shared. It so happened that she was experiencing the very same thing. I proceeded to send her tips on managing the raging thoughts.
The second thing I did was to write down my feelings and emotions along with beliefs concerning the guilt and self- bashing. Beliefs can either be true or untrue, they also tend to present themselves in little groups tied together making it hard to separate the real form unreal.
Source: Building Emotional Resilience – http://www.tomcloyd.com
Example: Getting up to present a speech in a roomful of people. I would naturally be scared and nervous about making a fool of myself.
Belief 1: I might mess up and make a fool of myself
Belief 2: I would never be able to show my face here again if that happened
While belief one is true, belief 2 is certainly a lie. I can show my face again (granted it would be a little uncomfortable)
We all have several ‘belief ties’ similar to the one above which we have absorbed as whole truths. I should write a post on my religious half true –not true beliefs. hehe
The third thing I did was to find blogs of persons who had had similar experiences and find out how they dealt with it. I found a blog by a fellow BPD survivor who had almost the exact situation, contacted her on twitter and we chatted for a bit. I am a huge believer in reaching out. Nothing sends a ripple of hope like the feeling of ‘not being alone’ in something.
More revelations were in store for me
On Wednesday morning I couldn’t find my office calculator. Someone had borrowed it and apparently, had forgotten to return it. I spent at least 15 minutes searching all over the store before I just gave up and got a new one. I knew who had removed it – it was a young lady who is a member of the church I used to attend. I wasn’t angry- probably mildly annoyed at first, but all in all I dealt with it skillfully. It was her day off, so when I saw her this morning (Friday) I decided to gently remind her to replace anything removed from the office.
I was a bit surprised at her response. At first as she rattled off a couple of defensive sentences. Hmm. I just smiled in an attempt to reassure her that it wasn’t a problem really, but she continued. I’m figuring…
- It was no big deal, just a small jovial reminder
- A simple “I’m sorry” would suffice
- Um….you actually did remove it so, why so defensive
I kicked into wise mind and decided not to feed the situation. I did assure her that: It’s ok. Sandy eventually found it. It’s fine, really. I didn’t want to give a lousy calculator any more power than it deserved. Later on as I sat in my office I realized that the person who had made comments to trigger my suicide ideation was also a member of the same church. *gasp*
Why were these persons so defensive? Being able to laugh at one’s self, not take things so seriously or not feel accused at the slightest reprimand or suggestion is a sign of good mental health. Heck, I’m taking a whole course in DBT just to learn these skills. 😉
Another example is that of a supervisor whom I also manage. He is not very popular due his harsh attitude towards staff and readiness to criticize and rebuke. One day, he made a mistake and could not let it go. He beat himself up for days!! I told him: Take it easy on yourself. Cut yourself some slack. When you are too hard on yourself you are hard on others. You are human, Cobin. Surprise, surprise! He is also a member of the above mentioned church..!!!
Perfectionism, legalistic churches and why I found it hard to forgive myself.
These three persons whom I still communicate with, show signs of perfectionism. I had to ask myself; was I still carrying around with me some embedded beliefs that I had subconsciously absorbed. Is this why I found it hard to forgive myself, the false belief that “I must not mess up or fail”? I failed! Badly! I had regrets and remorse, felt contrition and asked and received forgiveness. I even went further and tried to work on cause, which I had found. I have made great progress in my personal development, yet, I still could not forgive myself. I hadn’t given myself permission to be happy again, to be free of shame (which I have lots of).
One site actually asked of me to: Reflect on why you are trying to hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else around you. Now, this screamed in my ear! A huge part of being in that legalistic organization revolved around being better than other people (heathens). We were never told to accept our imperfections. Once received, you were supposed to conform to a rigid set of standards made up by another human being.
How DBT helps.
What I like best about DBT is the non-judging aspect. There is a phrase in the manual that declares: Don’t judge your thoughts and when you find yourself judging, don’t judge the judging. It helps me personally to get to the core causes of my feelings, behaviors and emotions without judgment. Judgment clouds the mind and blocks healing. Normally if I feel jealous, I would immediately also feel guilty for feeling jealous and then try to ignore or suppress the negative feeling. DBT says, Hmm, now why would this make me feel jealous? Is there some gap in my life, some need that my feelings are trying to tell me about?
I suppressed a lot of anger in church, heck I repented for it repeatedly; self- flogged mentally and wondered why I couldn’t be a better person. This led of course to shame, feeling ‘less than’ and hence striving even more to appear to be ‘better than’. I look back at that person with compassion and sadness. It takes a lot of energy to wear a mask. Legalistic churches are described in some texts as having impossible standards; persons who are always striving to reach by pretending harder and harder to be perfect, kept in line by leaders with their own soup of self – image issues who use these impossible standards to further keep persons ‘obedient’. That was a strange sentence. In short, Perfectionism was the order of the day. Persons have been put on probation for failing to achieve this image of perfection, some have been dis-fellowshipped, ignored, or just preached right out.
My last step was to assess the false beliefs and to eliminate them. The concept of failure was tied to the following beliefs on the left. To the right are the affirmations which correct the false beliefs.
I should have known better -I am not flawless
I am a lesser person -I am valuable because I exist (Story of the $100 bill)
I shouldn’t have made THAT mistake – I am a vulnerable human being
I must be punished/unhappy -Mistakes carry consequences NOT punishment
I have no right to speak out -My story will help/uplift others
People were disappointed -I do not live by people’s expectations but my own
People have said hurtful things –I have no control over what people say: they are also suffering from their own shortcomings
Disclaimer: I don’t see myself as being ‘off the hook’ or without blame. The natural consequences of my actions have affected my life severely in negative ways. However I also don’t believe that feeling suicidal because of the burden of guilt is a healthy way to live either. I am still working on identifying and dealing with the negative aspects that led me to that mistake, that hurt other people. Even though I have discovered since then that the features of BPD were responsible for the frame of mind that led to those actions, it is in no way an excuse for said actions but a ‘cause’ – one that I am working diligently to recover from. Also I am making efforts to “live my amends”, according to an inspirational woman. See her blog (www.blessingmanifesting.blogspot.com). I do this by blogging, sharing with hopes of helping others in some small way.
I also realize that not only is DBT helping me understand and reprogram the lies I absorbed from childhood trauma but it is also helping me to de-program from the legalistic organization.
Thank you for reading.