From Underground To Upfront

Have you ever wondered what the purpose of feeling guilty and ashamed is?

Many of us were brought up with a moral compass of some kind, normally from our parents, family, or some religious or educational institution. However, as adults and freer thinking individuals, many of our assumptions and beliefs can be challenged and tested to see if they still hold their currency.

Often admission of guilt is premised on the idea that it will protect us from punishment or at least diminish its severity. For others, feeling guilty is like an ‘I owe you’ for punishment, which is often inflicted onto ourselves in order to reduce future retribution. The feelings of shame associated with guilt are meant to somehow prevent us from repeating our ‘wrong actions’. Sometimes feelings of guilt and shame drive some of our behavior to be acted out in a hidden way, or underground away from scrutinising eyes and reprimand.

Have you ever found yourself repeating the same action that creates feelings of guilt or shame? Let’s take eating ice-cream when you are on a diet. You might feel guilt and shame for doing so and then, in order to penalise yourself, you eat even more ice cream. Think of parents who punish a kid for smoking one cigarette by forcing them to smoke a packet. The guilt-shame cycle reinforces itself, increasing how ‘wrong’ we make our self to be, in the vain hope that the greater the punishment the greater the prevention. Self inflicted castigation can sometimes be extreme, inappropriate and have no rational end.

So what if there is guilt and shame associated with acquiring HIV? How might we punish ourselves, and for how long? Would we do this in a conscious way, or unconsciously through self-sabotaging behavior, anxiety, or depression? When is recompense complete? Could we be punishing ourselves for being gay? Is this punishment real, self inflicted, disproportionate, imagined, and irrational without end? How do we overcome feelings of guilt and shame?

First and foremost professional counselling is recommended. Make sure you find one that you can work with, and feel you can trust and be open with. It may take a bit of searching to find the right counsellor, but when you do, the personal growth possible is accelerated. Secondly, embark on a journey of self acceptance, and loving every aspect of who you are. It means choosing to live upfront, knowing that as guilt and shame is released, more freedom opens up which supports better choices and loving connections.

Cipri Martinez