So, you have guilt or shame ... two complex feelings that are difficult to understand and solve. We'll give you some of the best solutions we've encountered in our decades of doing psychotherapy. None of our solutions, however, are to take the place of a live person talking with you until the gloom lifts. Still, there is much that can be communicated by print and, perhaps, you will find an answer that will be freeing.

Let's first distinguish between real guilt and self-imposed guilt. Real guilt means that you purposefully hurt someone or the possessions of someone and feel sorry for doing that. Real guilt ranges from murder and rape on through various sex acts upon innocents to the various misdemeanors outlined by societies. Self-imposed guilt refers to non-criminal matters where a person has decided that they should have done something but didn't, or did something that may have caused hurt to someone else. Thus, self-imposed guilt means that a person has a measure of mind-reading going on, a mental guess that an action, thought, or even word caused harm to another. This could even range to the point where, as a child, you were playing as a child when someone else got hurt (or maybe even died). As a result, you turned on yourself with blame.


We'll provide a number of solutions for the second form of guilt later. Now let's deal with intentional hurt you did to someone else. It could be a moment of rage or a planned pain, but your mind has begun to haunt you that what you did was not acceptable - not only by the society but by your own self-appraisal. The great book on this subject is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevski. The leading character, Raskolnikov, kills and old woman and is hounded in his own mind for what he did. If you read that book, be sure and follow up by reading a second book that gives a better solution than the one of Dostoevski: Victor Hugo's Les Miserables . The hero of that book, Jean Valjean, learns to give, love, and spend a life of service. Hugo's solution will not be improved upon. If you have done purposeful harm to another at one point in your life, the answer to assuage your guilt will be some form of giving to others, concentration upon loving deeds, and spending your life helping others. This does not mean occasional. It means full devotion.


While this form of `real' guilt is debatable, the fact remains that many think it should fall under that category. This is where a child is taking care of a younger sibling and the younger one gets hurt. For instance, at age five Billy was given care of his younger brother at a mountain cabin during the winter. His mother went into town for supplies.While she was gone, the eighteen month old baby crawled up by the open fireplace with his blankie in tow. The blanket was highly flammable. He caught on fire and, in his panic, fell into the flames. When the mother returned, Billy was happily playing in a different room. She discovered her charred child in the fireplace. To cover up her own mistake of having left a five year old to tend an eighteen month old, the mother attacked Billy verbally, blamed him, and continued to mistreat him until he left home at age eighteen. While we, the authors, think fault lies elsewhere, thirteen years of mental brain-washing by his mother left Billy mentally unbalanced. The condemning voice of his mother haunted his unconscious mind.

The solution of the Billy Problem is that he must learn to give his mother back her guilt and not carry it for her. In addition, he must realize that what he did was what five year olds do: lose themselves in play. If he still carries a form of guilt response where he thinks himself at fault, he may have to concentrate upon giving to others, doing loving deeds, and maybe even live a life of service. This last step, though filled with the grandiosity of five year old thinking that he is ultimately responsible, may still be the only solution for some. Only time will tell. We prefer that the person give the ultimate responsibility back to his mom and to re-gain some of the natural playing ability of a young child who deserves childhood.


By now you may have realized that the word `Guilt' refers to an internal process, usually auditory, where a person does some form of self-abuse. The internal process is usually auditory, in the sense that a person talks to him/herself - usually just below the level of consciousness. In Billy's case, his mother's words are carried on the equivalent of a tape machine and he played her words over and over to himself. Sometimes the person's internal condemning voice happens to be a father, an older sibling, or even a self-generated harsh voice. Upon occasion, a person mentally sees a picture over and over again, say, in Billy's case the charred remains of his little brother. That picture is just out of consciousness, also.

After identifying the process by which a person 'guiltifies' within, the therapeutic task is set. Either the dialog must be destroyed or the picture removed. There are many methods of doing this and we shall list some now: write the internal dialog down and lampoon each side of the debate by yelling it aloud in a staccato manner; change each of the voices repeatedly - in an operatic voice, for instance; put the voices to music such as `I ain't nothing but a hound dog' or some other Elvis song; have two of your friends take each part and argue it out in a soap opera fashion while you watch; study the information provided in this paper over and over again.

If there is a haunting picture just out of consciousness and you have now brought it to consciousness, several options come forth: Install in that picture you, as a grown-up caring person, loving the child within who saw the grossness; change the internal picture by surrendering the deceased to the care of God; ask within the picture that the deceased give you a blessing of forgiveness; take the horrific that you see and put it in your favorite spot of nature; and return to the picture and fill it with answers.


There can be a much larger process occurring devoid of any single tragic scene. What may be transpiring is an internal dialog with a mother or a father that took place over the duration of childhood. For instance, Mary's mother was deep into a self-sacrificing religion and programmed her daughter throughout the years of dependency. The mother scolded Mary all day long, all childhood long. You should cook, clean, wash, and serve the man. The mother's voice was installed in Mary's brain/mind. As an adult living in a different house from her mother, Mary was bound internally by the voice of her mother. Each time she started to do something for herself, she was hounded internally with the words `pride goeth before a fall'.

If the voice cannot be changed by one of the previously given auditory techniques, it is probably wise to change this through psychotherapy sessions. Make sure you pick a therapist who knows how to do this, possibly someone from a gestalt or Transactional Analysis background. You want to accomplish the shrinking of the paternal presence and enlarge your thinking and acting options as a grown-up. Incidentally, but not unimportantly, you want to free up your personality so you can play, laugh, sing, and enjoy life. Mary, for instance, needs to become a liberated woman who can think, act, feel, and live a self-programmed existence. She needs to learn that playing freely is one of her rights. If she decides from her grown-up analysis of life that she wants to cook, clean, wash and have a partner, then that's a different matter.

When you begin to understand the larger process of guilt, you have crossed a line of ordinary understanding. Most people do not know that the brain/mind houses childhood brainwashings. To diminish the internal voice and the model provided by the parents takes some doing.


Okay. By now you understand that you may be chewing on a larger problem: how to get your mom and dad out of your head. You do not want to be an automaton in life following the programmed instructions of a previous generation who tells you how to think, be, work, feel, live. You do not want to end up having simply been a copy of your mom or dad. You are sick of having an internal dialog with a sibling (two and a half years of age when you were born) who wished that you had not been born and would shrivel up and die. In other words, you want to become your own boss inside your skull.

Besides longterm talking with a therapist, there is a procedure that therapists use that can be done - if you feel strong enough to do it by yourself. It is called, by Gestaltists,The Two Chair. Place two chairs facing each other. In one chair you place your mom, dad (or older sibling) - or whatever voice that continues in your mind. You then video or tape record the exchange as you go through a typical scene. Be very objective as you analyze your audio or visual production. You may want to exaggerate these as you go along.

With the basic ideas listed so far, you will have a head start in ridding yourself of guilt. Let's turn to shame.


Guilt refers to something done or not done; shame has to do with a person's body and being. In other words, a person thinks there is something wrong with their very being. If, as a child, you has allergies and your mother scolded you, there would be guilt. If,as a child you had allergies and the kids ridiculed and avoided you, then shame would probably result. It is, as is said in Transactional Analysis, a sense that `I'm not OK - You're OK'.

Classically, shame results from a repetitive scene. It could be a father's drunken displays, a mother's enormous obesity as she hung out the clothes on the line, a child's crippled legs, a nose considered ugly, a size thought of as small. Clear cases of shame result from sexual, physical, emotional or even religious abuse. This is not to say that the child should take on the issue of someone else; it is to regretfully admit that many people walk around thinking their very person is evil due to what adults did to them. A relative may have crossed the ethical line and played with the child sexually. A father may have worked out his own frustration at life by beating his children. A child may have been considered illegitimate, weak, stupid, or profane by a parent and humiliated accordingly. A parent may have brain-washed a child by inculcating negative religious thoughts of sinfulness.

No matter the source: shame is in the person. Yes, matter the source! Madder the source. The job of caretakers is to nurture and give options, not abuse and take away rejoicing. One way out of the pit of shame is to name the abuser, be angry at the beater, feel out the rage at the emotional mistreatment, and shun the fundamentalists who taught such rigid self-hate. Anger and even rage, boiling out of the unconscious, needs to be legitimated. If parents install such self-loathing in a person, that parent needs to be hauled to the bar of emotional judgement and dealt with.

Anger, how ever and how deep, though, can take us only so far. What has to be understood is that you, the shame-bearer, are actually carrying the feelings of the abuser. In other words, you are still acting out the failures of a previous generation. You must divorce that generation in order to be free. There is no substitute for this. If you carry the shame, you are carrying someone else's problem! Not yours. Your body is okay, your soul beautiful, and your life your own. No amount of your own pain will assuage the true guilt of those who put off their problems on you. There is no true vicarious option: it is all grandiosity.

In other words, you must refuse at the level of your own being, to carry another's failed life. If that means surrendering your genetic forebears and embracing humanity and other life forms, so be it. If that means moving away from a family that continues emotional abuse, that too must be carried out. The idea is simple and profound at the same time: you must not carry a previous generation's problems.

The grand way to free yourself happens to be modeling of others. After all, if your original copies were invalid, you can use the same mechanism of copying in terms of great examples. This does not mean a simple studying of people you admire. It means that you systematically incorporate their personality into yours. You may spend the day - without others being aware of it - thinking, talking, and acting like your new role model. This procedure must be done repeatedly until the copy has taken, which is to say that your acting has become your reality. You may want to read Hawthorne's The Great Stone Face, a story that reveals the process.