Guilt and Expectations

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

The one source of human suffering lies in our unmet expectations. Christian and other teachings speak about the original sin – our hereditary guilt – as the source of all suffering. Are we talking about two different things then? No. Where there are no expectations there cannot be guilt.

When everything that happens is met with acceptance, there cannot be guilt. Guilt is the result of failing to meet expectations. We feel guilty when we fail to meet other people’s expectations. And we feel guilty when other people fail to meet our expectations. Wait, what? Yes. Guilt is nothing more than the acute sensation of unworthiness. If you want to use the religious image: we were unworthy of dwelling in Garden Eden – we were guilty.

Brené Brown distinguishes guilt and shame, although we often use them interchangeably. Whenever we feel “guilty” for being a certain way or not another, we experience shame. Guilt, on the other hand, is an acute realization that an action or behavior we have displayed, caused someone else pain. We adjust, we learn and we know that we can do better.

As children we were shamed for not behaving according to our parents’ expectations – unworthy of their love and affection. Not all the time (hopefully). But few times are enough to shock a child out of her natural confidence that she is love and worthy of love. And the vicious cycle begins. Once we believe that we lost our innocence, we seek forever to recover it. And we shame ourselves when we fail to meet expectations and prove to be good and we shame everyone else who fails to assure us that we are, indeed, worthy.

Becoming aware of our deep emotional need to feel worthy, bringing it home and taking care of it, allows us to remember our innocence and gain the ultimate freedom.

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