The Impact of Unresolved Blame and Guilt in Recovery

Blame and guilt are normal emotions that become toxic when unresolved. They collaborate when blame is utilized to avoid personal accountability, and when guilt is a consequence of accepting blame for harming another. They both generate shame until or unless addressed.

Blame

Blame is the act of censuring, holding responsible, or making negative statements about the self, an individual, or group that their action(s) were wrong, and they are socially or morally irresponsible. Blame is threefold: (1) blaming others who have harmed us; (2) blaming ourselves for harming another; (3) blaming ourselves for self-harm. 

Blaming is a natural and healthy response to situations, although the initial act is often distorted. For example, children often blame themselves for household disharmony. A student may blame a failing test grade on their stupidity rather than their lack of preparedness. We blame ourselves for our dysfunction and society for making our life so difficult. We blame ourselves, our parents, our neighbors, god, and anyone caught lurking for inconsequential things or situations beyond anyone’s control.

Most of our blaming is in response to forgettable, harmless situations. Some blaming carries significant emotional weight, especially if the harm is serious or prolonged. We often carry that emotional baggage throughout our life. It is unhealthy and non-conducive to recovery. When we hold onto these feelings, we construct our neural network with anger, hurt, and resentment. To paraphrase Buddha, holding onto anger is holding onto a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you’re the one who gets burned. Our transgressors are likely (1) unaware they injured us, (2) have forgotten the injury, (3) take no responsibility for it, (4) or don’t care. The only person negatively impacted is the blaming party.

Those who have harmed us should be held accountable, and we must take responsibility for our own transgressions. To release the negative energy, we must forgive those transgressions and move on. Why is that difficult to do? Because our anger and righteous indignation satisfy us. We also become physiologically addicted to the pleasurable chemicals that reward our hatred and resentment.

Transgressions against another manifest in guilt and shame—negative baggage that can only be released by accepting responsibility, making amends, and forgiving ourselves.

Self-blame is one of the most toxic forms of self-abuse. Since it is irrational to self-harm, it is caused by our dysfunction. We falsely self-blame for our behaviors and our perceived character deficits caused by our dysfunction. We are not our dysfunction, therefore, any blame must be ascribed to the dysfunction; self-blame is irrational and delusory. When addressed rationally, it can lead to positive change.

Guilt

Guilt is a psychological term for a natural self-conscious emotion that condemns the self while conscious of being evaluated by another person(s). It is the physiologically harmful feeling of having done something wrong, with an implicit need to correct or amend.

There are multiple levels and factors of guilt. We feel guilt for harming another, and for being the type of person who would affect harm. We feel guilt for harming ourselves. We guilt ourselves for things over which we have no control (cognitively distorted guilt).

The sensation of guilt is a reminder that we have done something wrong that we need to correct or amend. Such actions can remove the overriding vehemence of guilt from our conscience. Guilt is self-focused but highly socially relevant: It supports important interpersonal functions by, for example, encouraging adjusting or repairing valuable relationships and discouraging acts that could damage them. 

Rather than taking responsibility for guilt-provoking actions, we often play the blame game, ascribing the guilt to another entity. Since we subconsciously recognize our attribution, we add the burden of blame to the burden of guilt.

Until or unless we are mindful of our actions that elicited the guilt, and address those actions, we carry that emotional baggage throughout our life. It is unhealthy and non-conducive to self-esteem and recovery. When we hold onto guilt, we pattern our neural network with self-doubt, self-contempt, and self-unworthiness.

The harmful impact of guilt can be resolved by:

  1. Mindfulness (recognition and acceptance) of the act that incurred the guilt.
  2. Recognizing and disputing any cognitively distorting guilt for things we are not responsible for or things over which we have no control.
  3. Making direct amends for acts we are responsible for. Making substitutional amends if direct amends are not possible. 
  4. Then forgiving our self for the act that incurred the guilt. 

When we allow the negativity of guilt to take up valuable space in our brain, it impedes the flow of positive thought and action necessary for recovery. To excise this harmful negativity, we must forgive ourselves (which requires amending or remedying). Years of hanging onto guilt take their toll, and the negative self-image builds and solidifies, and overwhelms anything that hints at self-worth or value. Guilt is considered a ‘sad’ emotion, along with agony, grief, and loneliness, each a debilitating symptom of social anxiety disorder.

By withholding forgiveness, we deny ourselves the ability to function optimally; it is divisive to our wellbeing and disharmonious to our true nature. Forgiving is the only way to expel the hostility. We cannot hope to recover without courageously absolving our self and others whose behavior contributed to our negativity.

Why is your support essential? ReChanneling is dedicated to the research and development of methods to alleviate symptoms of physiological dysfunction and discomfort. Our vision is to reshape the current pathographic emphasis on diagnoses over the individual, which fosters a deficit, disease model of human behavior. Treatment programs must disavow ineffective, one-size-fits-all approaches and target the individual personality through communication, empathy, collaboration, and integration of historically and clinically practical methods. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.

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