The guilt list

Things I currently feel guilty about:

-          Commenting on another woman’s body

-          Letting my son watch heaps of TV the other day

-          Not using my Keep Cup enough

-          Getting impatient with people who speak slowly

-          Not phoning people

-          Forgetting to make a Book Week costume

-          Feeling guilty about all of the above

Guilt must be one of the most invasive feelings there is. When I’m feeling guilty about a multitude of things, it’s like someone has wrapped a woollen blanket around me in the height of summer. The really scratchy sort. It’s spectacularly uncomfortable.

Something I think about a lot is a particular scene in Harry Potter when Dumbledore shows him a Pensieve, which is like a shallow basin filled with a sort of vapour. It’s used as a vessel for emptying your thoughts into, for the purpose of…thinking about them. As Dumbledore says, ‘One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one's mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one's leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.’

I really wish I had one.

There are a whole bunch of disclaimers I could make about that guilt list. When I commented on another woman’s body, it was positively. I was being nice. But, I broke my own rule - bodies are not for public judgement, even when it’s favourable. I let my son watch heaps of TV because he was sick, and I wanted him to rest. I own a Keep Cup – don’t I get points for that? (No). Etcetera. But, then I go into a guiltception spiral of feeling guilty about guilt itself. LOLZ.

Anyway, the bit I’m more interested in is not the rationality of the guilt, but the purpose it serves. Why do we feel guilty, at all? In what way and for what purpose do we need guilt? What makes us invite it in and give it a seat at our table?

My husband and I are often late. I pointed this out to him a few months ago, and how it seems like we need that lateness to propel us into action. Why else would we sabotage ourselves? Staying up late so we don’t want to get up early, then running late and being stressed all morning – yet, we do it again and again. Does it reflect some version of ourselves that we enjoy? The relaxed, creative couple, so creative, in fact, that they can be free and loose with time itself? Or is it that we enjoy the urgency of the hustle, a frantic dash rather than a sedate and plodding amble into the morning? I dunno.

There’s an expression that ‘shame is the handmaiden of guilt,’ which is a lovely way of saying that we usually feel guilty about an action, and shame about how an action reflects on us as people. How shame spurs on paths of behaviour is even more interesting, especially when I think about Alice in DTTS. Was it shame that prompted her to take the action she did? Was her shame so powerful that she wanted to re-write history, just to find a version of herself she could live with more comfortably? Was she even ashamed at all? Does anyone live totally free from guilt, and if so, is that a good thing?

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