The Marriage of Guilt and Self-Loathing
Photo copyright by Aislinn Bailey; all rights reserved
For much of my life, I have felt guilty.
Whether I’d done anything or not.
Whether I’d done something–like stop harm to someone else–or not.
I carried the weight of my actions and everyone else’s. I would be responsible for other’s actions if they didn’t take responsibility. That was me–Miss Responsible.
I don’t do that anymore. In fact, I don’t feel guilty about anything–at all–anymore. The weightlessness of that lack of guilt, that burden, is sometimes overwhelming. There’s a beautiful peace and serenity that comes with not feeling responsible for the rest of the world, not feeling guilty about things that I cannot change. I’m responsible only for myself now (and to a degree, for my soon-to-be-an-adult daughter). I rarely kick myself for what someone else has done, or for something I didn’t see coming, or for something I should have seen and been proactive about instead of being blindsided. It does happen, but not every minute of every day. Without that sense of guilt, real or imagined, I feel light and flow-y.
But there’s another side to realizing that I don’t carry that burden of guilt. It’s realizing that I have love for myself that I didn’t have before.
I’ve heard wise people talk frequently about loving yourself. It’s always sounded so obnoxiously silly to me, perhaps because I remember being a young adolescent in the I’m-OK-You’re-OK 70’s when we were all told to love each other and love ourselves. My Baptist church preached that we should love others as we loved ourselves, yet as I’ve found throughout my life, most people don’t love themselves and don’t treat others with love. They stay in abusive relationships because they feel they’re still being treated a tiny bit better than they treat themselves. When I was growing up, my Christian religion sneered at the thought of self-love, seeming to assume that everyone was so arrogantly wrapped up in their own narcissism that self-love needed to be tamped down and stomped out in favor of giving to others. I didn’t dare, even if I could have, answer that I loved myself. I didn’t understand then that loving myself wasn’t a sinful decision but that loving myself was about honoring myself and respecting who I am.
But as I have shed my own shadows over the past decade and emerged in sunshine, I have stopped feeling guilty for my actions and for others’ actions. I cannot control the actions of others, only my reaction, and I’m letting others be responsible for themselves, whether their actions prove that they’re cowards or sons of bitches. I can’t control the timeline of what is, in regard to any less than honorable action or mistake I’ve made, so there’s no need for me to carry the guilt of it. What’s done is done. If I can made amends or end a continued hurt, then I’ll do it because that’s my responsibility. No guilt over not doing it–just do it, just fix my own mistakes, and press forward in loving respect for who I am and try to be.
I’m honestly not sure which came first: no longer feeling guilty or really loving who I am. What I do know is that they happened in very short sequence. Self-love replaced years of self-loathing for not being good enough, smart enough, quick enough, or just…enough. Lightness and forgiveness replaced guilt.