Guilt: The Blessing and the Curse

by Bill Brenner on April 7, 2011

Everyone struggles with guilt from time to time. Guilt is good in that feeling it means you have the desire to right a wrong. But when you mix it with OCD, the results are catastrophic.

MOOD MUSIC: “Step Outside” by 360s

I’ve always had a powerful guilty conscience. For the most part it has served me well. In my moments of anger, hatred, depression and despair, it has kept me from going too far in my quest to seek revenge on people for whatever I felt they did to me at the time.

Without it, I probably would have done things that would have made people abandon me. Or, I might have done something that would have landed me in jail. The guilty conscience kept me from going too far. That’s probably why God put it in me.

At the same time, guilt would super-charge all of my OCD ticks: The worry out of control, the binge eating, the self loathing and the repetitive actions.

People like to joke about having Catholic or Jewish guilt thrust on them. Since I grew up Jewish and became a Catholic, I’ve found there’s some truth to that. My mother was and is the perfect stereotype of the so-called Jewish mother, using guilt whenever I made choices that weren’t to her liking. In the Catholic community, some people will push the guilt button if you let your kids talk too loud during Mass or if you vote for a Democrat.

But I can’t blame them. The fact that I’ve always had a guilty conscience stems from having done bad things: Lying, being cruel to someone, neglecting my soul.

In a lot of ways, I’ve caused it all on my own.

I still have a guilty conscience, but it’s not as destructive a force as it used to be.

I used to use guilty feelings as an excuse to beat myself to death. I’d typically do this by giving in freely to my addictions, binging until my gut hurt so much that I wanted to be dead. It would also cause me to avoid people I may have hurt along the way, when making things right with them would have been the better course.

In my biggest moments of guilt, I’d isolate myself in my room, not showering for days.

The smell would hit the few visitors I had like a punch in the face.

Somewhere along the way, though, I’ve been able to turn it around. The guilt is still there. I’ve just learned how to react to it in a healthier way.

If I hurt someone, instead of hiding I try to make amends with the person. In doing so, I’ve found that most people are kind, forgiving souls.

If I make bad decisions, I’m more likely to pray and turn it over to God.

Or I write about it here. That way, it’s at least out in the open, where I can get a better look at it and have a fair fight.

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