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Guilt - But not the guilt you would expect

Discussion in 'Spirituality and ME/CFS' started by muffin, Jan 5, 2010.

  1. muffin

    muffin Senior Member

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    I know this sounds odd, but I just wrote someone who had something stolen by her cousin that the thieving cousin would "get what he so richly deserved". Well, that made me think, yet again, that maybe my disease is payback for something I "so richly deserved". I haven't been evil, on the contrary, pretty darn good of a person. It just occassionally hits me that I did something along the way (or even in a past life, sounds odder yet) that gave me this disease because I deserved it.

    Now I have told many a person that they did NOTHING to deserve this disease and I believe that fervently. But when I say or write to someone that a nasty or evil person will "get what they deserve" it does always stop me in my tracks that I too am getting what I deserve.

    I know this sounds childish and I do know better but...

    Thoughts on my childish little statement? Am i the only one who stops and thinks "Did I do something that gave me a disease that I so richly deserved to suffer with?" And by the way, I am not religious at all. So that doesn't play into it either.
     
  2. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

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    Yup. It's just childish.

    People don't get what they deserve, but we do like to believe otherwise. Our brains are pattern seeking machines, built to assume that easy reasons for the occurances in our lives can be found - they don't like quantum mechanics. Rape victims don't deserve to be raped, Africans don't deserve to starve, children don't deserve to get run over and you, most likely, do not deserve to be ill (maybe you fell ill while playing with biological weaponry? Then there'd be a certain poetic justice). We may allow ourselves to think otherwise, but I'm afraid that life is often not fair. You do not deserve many of the good things in your life, and you do not deserve many of the bad.

    Given a lot of the stigma and prejudices that surround CFS, it's especially easy to blame yourself. I don't think that this is likely to be fair on you. I find the various promises of effective treatments, and the difficulty of fully following any of the protocols can make it easier to blame oneself as well. Maybe if I'd been more commited? Tried some more quacky cures? I think it's best to just accept that you're doing the best you can, and no-one can be perfect. Living with CFS is difficult enough: don't be mean to yourself too.
     
  3. Sunday

    Sunday Senior Member

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    OK, well, overt religion may not play into it at all, but Puritanical Christianity is built into not only U.S. law but social custom as well. (I don't know if you're in the U.S., and it may be a bit different in other places, but anyplace where English is spoken has laws, education, and customs that were based on Christian ethics and morality, because the ruling classes were Christian and did their best to stamp out or marginalize anything that wasn't. A few hundred years of burning and torturing people who believed otherwise, for instance, really damped down other points of view.) The whole notion of "god punishing us" is a hidden but deadly part of our education, a way to keep us hewing the right road.

    I've come to see whipping ourselves into action and beating ourselves for mistakes as a form of cultural insanity and suicide, and this disease has only solidified that opinion. Yet - if I'm honest - I do keep examining myself for something I might have done.

    I think there are two parts to this which have gotten stuck together for me, because of that hidden deadly part of my education. One is, our actions have consequences; so if some of my actions (driving myself, not paying attention to my feelings) have contributed to me getting sick, then it only makes sense to take a look at them and go another route the next time, if I can. The second part is where I beat myself up for being so stupid and hateful and useless. I used to believe that that made me somehow better, but I now understand that it doesn't do anything but paralyze me. Hard habit to kick, though. As Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote, "Guilt isn't about what you've done, it's about who you are. And it's a great preventative for getting on with the next thing."

    I don't consider myself to be anywhere near free of this, but some of the reading I've done that's been very useful in helping get some perspective are an article by Monica Sjoo (came out years ago. I did a little googling and didn't find it, but some of her newer writing on the damage some kinds of Christianity do might be useful to you. You might not be religious, but you might be surprised at how much those fundamentalist voices sound like the ones in your head). Joan Borysenko (one of the pioneers in psychoneuroimmunology) has also done a lot of writing that also gently takes apart this notion that illness is a punishment, and examines the truth hidden in the false feeling of guilt; "The Power of the Mind to Heal" is a book I learned a lot from (it was at my library on tape).

    I think you are brave to speak up about this. I'd be willing to bet that a lot of us have this lurking in our minds somewhere, and I think it's good to get it out and talk about it, and find better ways of dealing with it.
     
  4. muffin

    muffin Senior Member

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    Thank you both for your insights. I do agree, that although I am NOT religious I was raised as a Roman Catholic in the US and as you noted: " but Puritanical Christianity is built into not only U.S. law but social custom as well" And you are very correct.
    Again, I have been the one to pound on others that they did nothing to deserve CFIDS or any other terrible thing that happens to them. But that tiny voice in my head says to me that maybe, just maybe, I did do something that brought this terrible disease on. Intellectually, I know this is NOT so. But, given the way Americans have been raised, our cultural beliefs do play into this and I guess that teeny tiny voice can still be heard. So, as a rebellious American, I will just POUND that stupid little voice out of my head! Thanks!
     
  5. muffin

    muffin Senior Member

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    SUNDAY: Another read of your comment and I really am impressed with what you wrote. Will have to check out the books you mentioned. All very interesting. Thanks again.
     
  6. margib

    margib Senior Member

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    muffin, i think that i think about this every day, going back over my whole life again & again, trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. It's hard to stop the tape from playing.
     
  7. flybro

    flybro Senior Member

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    I spent my formative years in Malta, I went to a convent school run by nuns.

    So somewhere deep in me is a neural network with sinner and saint accountancy.

    When I'm in a flare or crash, I try to work out what I did wrong.. ie food, exposure to chems, over exertion and on and on.

    If I don't come to a quick conclusion and move on, I can often get stuck in the 'revolving why' door.

    I'll go down the, was it my childhood, did I abuse my body, and into the whole karma, bad person, sinner, saint thing.

    I think its because I'm plain desperate for an answer, and will leave no avenue unexplored.

    and as Sunday said its culturaly unavoidable for most, if not all of us.
     
  8. alice1

    alice1 Senior Member

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    I think you hit it on the head flybro...Not finding an answer makes it our fault.I believe examining our selves is good but there's crossing that line of it must be me.
    Like Sunday wrote you may not be religious but those voices are all around and as quiet as they may be stick.I stopped blaming myself because I don't believe that's how the unniverse works.There are consequences for all actions but that doesn't mean you started the ball rolling.S&^t happens to good people,children,innocents and on and on.
     
  9. Terri

    Terri Guest

    I was also raised as a catholic. And even though I am not a religious person now, every once in a while I hear myself saying "Why is God punishing me?" Then I remind myself that I don't believe in God, per se, and even if I did I would not believe in one who punishes. But even saying this to myself makes my little brain think "now you're really going to get it"

    I also went through a "Law of Attraction" stage (basis for the movie Secrets) and for a while explored the theory that I, God or not, was still responsible for my illness because of my thoughts and what I was drawing to me.

    Food. I am constantly second guessing myself that I am somehow getting these flares (and in a strange way, being punished for) because I eat certain foods that I really enjoy. (Although I have kept food logs and there is no evidence to support this). I think this goes back to the whole religious thing in a round about way, "thou shalt not enjoy life" (My quote) This is not to say that a good healthy diet is not helpful, obviously we need a core basis of good nutrition to give us the best fighting chance.

    I could go on but I agree that intellectually we know these things are not the cause of our illness but emotionally we keep reverting back to it somehow being our fault. We are sick. Maybe there are no concrete answers as to the cause right now but we absolutely don't deserve this because of something we are doing or did in the past.
     
  10. Wayne

    Wayne Senior Member

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    Muffin - Guilt re: ME/CFS

    Hi Muffin,

    Your username reminds me of the movie Mrs. Doubtfire. I seem to remember Mrs. Doubtfire (Robin Williams) referring to some of the children in this movie as Muffin. I always thought it was pretty sweet. Sooo, I guess I'm saying I like your username. :Retro smile:

    I suspect many of us have had some similar thoughts to the ones you posted, including myself. I feel I've resolved many of these issues for myself, and will share some of my own perspectives. Perhaps it will resonate with you and/or others on this thread.

    RE: Karma -- It seems when people think of karma, they think primarily of personal karma. And probably for good reason. But I think it can expand our perspectives considerably if we look at other types of karma. This would include things like family karma, racial karma, national karma, world karma, etc.

    When I think of the cause and effect of our health issues, I primarily think in terms of national karma. Look at what we as a nation have done in the past century that can possibly effect our health, and especially our immune systems. Just a few examples might include:

    1) We've had extensive above-ground nuclear testing for many years, spreading excessive radiation throughout our entire nation. 2) We've had extensive (and experimental IMO) vaccination programs going for the past half century, with many unknown implications. 3) The soils in our nation have become incredibly depleted of minerals as a result of modern day farming methods. 4) We are exposed to high levels of chemicals and toxicity that our bodies have never had to deal with before. 5) etc., etc., etc.

    I believe that many of us are dealing with health issues that are a result of the modern times we live in, and are thus the effect of national karma. Could personal karma be involved as well? Of course (from my perspective). But either way, I don't believe we should ever accept that we should somehow feel guilty for the things we experience, no matter how they come our way.

    Regarding this notion of punishment. Whether a person believes in karma or not, and/or believes that all actions have consequences or repercussions, I think it's important to know that all karmic results are of a remedial nature. God (or the Universe), does not punish us. All life's lesson's are to help us become stronger spiritually. In other words, all life here is based on love.

    I appreciate the thoughts and sincerity expressed by so many posters on this thread. Thank you.:Retro smile:

    Best Regards to All, Wayne
     
  11. muffin

    muffin Senior Member

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    Thank you all for your comments and insights. I even caught myself off guard when I posted the first comment about that tiny voice saying to me "Did I do something to deserve this" - and I too would smack myself and say NO! You are sick and you did nothing to deserve this. I do think we all look for cause and effect and the WHYs. It's how we all were raised. And many of us have been raised with the Judeo-Christian idea that if we are good we will be rewarded and if we are bad we will be punished. Well, as the adult now I know that is not true. As a sick person in pain and living in a bed with periods of desperation, what else can I believe?

    So - All together --- I DID NOTHING TO DESERVE BEING SICK AND IN PAIN. BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE. BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO BAD PEOPLE (WESSELY AND REEVES - YOU EVIL BOYS LISTENING?!).
     
  12. Sunday

    Sunday Senior Member

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    Hey Muffin, sounds as if you're improving already!

    flybro, I myself have been caught in that "revolving 'why' door", great phrase. With time, I'm finding the more interesting question is, "how"? As in, how do I move in another direction, how do I make myself a life given my limitations, how do I find my way out of this damn revolving why door?

    Wayne, I so agree with your reading of large-scale karma. When people say, "you create your illness", I grind my teeth and say that I don't think the people near Chernobyl or Three-Mile Island got radiation sickness because they have bad thoughts. This is the kind of thing Sjoo and Borysenko write about, the fundamentalist cold iron wrapped in fluffy New Age clothing.

    Muffin, I'm glad if you got something out of my comments. I do believe that, if we understand the root of why we do this (oh dear, am I at the why door again?), it gives us just that little space where we can start choosing to respond, instead of just reacting. It's a kind of healing.

    I often use the traffic jam analogy when I get irritated by "we create our own reality" people. (I think saying we create our own reality is actually a kind of megalomania, a thinly-disguised fear of not being able to control everything.) Here it goes: if I'm in a traffic jam, I may start out by cursing my luck, blaming someone else, saying I have to be on the road here and now, I have a job and I have to support, etc. If I dig a little deeper, I will find that I have chosen the life where I have to commute to this job; I am responsible for being there, in my car, now. But what I HAVEN'T created (and what I think is megalomaniac to imply) is all those other cars there on the road with me. All those people are choosing their own realities, too, and we're all converging in a reality that's bigger than any one of us.
     
  13. flybro

    flybro Senior Member

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    I was just thinking about the cultural neural networks that we have in common.

    One I think is very signifigant is the xmas thing. I have said to my children and my parents said to me, that if I had been good, and worked well at school, that father christmas would bring what I wanted for christmas. Or if you don't go to sleep father christmas won't bring you what you want.

    Again programing us to beleive that if we fail to get the gift we desired then it is us that are at fault.

    If you place this also in the economic perspective of individual families, how many children with less affluent parents are consistently discovering, no matter how hard they work, no matter how good they are, it is not hard enough or good enough.
     
  14. Denn

    Denn Guest

    This is a great thread and my kudos to all for such insightful observations. I think it is only natural to ask yourself why you are ill and to imagine that it is somehow hardwired into your persona. Part of that puritannical genetic code we inherited :eek: I don't think so! You know, the faultless animals get sick too--even the wild ones whose ills cannot be explained away by their contact with their human companions. However, the animals accept their illnesses and adversities with great vicissitude. i believe that they sense that these diseases are exercises in consciousness that are working to a cosmic purpose. Also, I think that they know, as we do not, that they will pass on to another reality where the energy that is currently exhibited as illness will be transmuted to a more graceful manifestation. As it will, surely, for us all.

    Blessings,
    Denn
     
  15. Mithriel

    Mithriel Senior Member

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    I think it is universal, not just a western Christian thing. I read an article recently, sorry can't remember where, but it said that in Eastern countries where there is belief in reincarnation, there is very little sympathy for misfortune like being born disabled because it is seen as a punishment for sins in a past life.

    People don't want to be bothered with other people's problems so I think they use cultural ideas to justify neglect, rather than the other way round.

    The insidious idea in present day western society is that thinking right will solve all your problems. It started in the sixties but is taken as a given now. Even uncontroversial disease like heart problems, diabetes, cancer are seen as being "lifestyle diseases" and so the fault of the individual.

    It is easily believed because it lets people off the hook twice. If bad choices made people ill it's their own fault so why should I care about them and, of course, I won't make those same bad choices so I won't get it.

    Organisms work fairly well but they are not "optimized", things go wrong all the time. We are continually at war with microbes and they reproduce quickly so they have the upper hand.

    Mithriel

    OT and just a thought, but I was brought up catholic and I never got the guilt thing that's often mentioned. We were always told that we just had to try our best, go to confession say truthfully for were sorry for anything we'd done wrong and that was it over, no agonizing. Even if you went out and did the same thing again there was no limit to how often you were forgiven.

    You had to make up for things - if you broke a window you paid and if secular punishment was due you took it. But no guilt.
     
  16. Muffin...

    I'd like to add a different perspective to this thread. I consider myself a follower of Jesus (before you roll your eyes and think - oh dear, not another religious nutjob come to evangelise us, hear me out) and I hang out with a number of theologians and authors on the subject who are among my treasured friends and family.

    I don't know where anybody got the idea that Christianity teaches people that illness is punishment for sins. (If you wanna hash out some Bible verses on it then PM me.)
    OK, so there are some fruitloops who - whenever disaster strikes - say it's God's punishment on gay people or something. But that really isn't anything to do with serious theology, it's just... well, fruitloops who like to shock people and are angry at the world for not believing their narrow worldview.

    A surprising amount of what Jesus said, did, and taught, was an attempt to prove that illness IS NOT punishment for sin. When he was asked if somebody was born blind because of sin (either his own sin or his parents), Jesus said no. Then he healed the man. To me Christianity is all about God's grace and reckless love. Something I don't see a lot of, unfortunately, in the way some Christians have treated others. Mostly this is because politics and religion got mixed up, rather than because the Christian faith is inherently evil.

    A muslim friend of mine told me that I was sick because of my sins (he did it very thoughtfully and sensitively by the way, and bravely I thought, knowing me). I am taking the time to think about how I can reply to him sensitively because unfortunately this belief is still part of many of the world's religions and I want to kick its ass wherever I see it.

    Muffin: you're sick because the world's an f%$ed up place and nothing is fair nor right. Yet.
    But I want to do what I can to change that, I really do.

    As a wise counsellor friend once said to me: "Guilt is the emotion that comes from an unachieved goal."
    If you feel guilty about something, ask yourself what your goal was. Then ask yourself if it that was realistic. If it wasn't then let it go.

    -Rachel xx
     
  17. valia

    valia Senior Member

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    I was born guilty, this was confirmed to me on a more or less daily basis by my Catholic upbringing and the convent school I attended.
    All my life I have thought if I had done this or if I had only done that then this wouldn’t have happened blah, blah!

    But I was also born a rebel and all I have to hear is that I can do something about this illness if I just try.....and my hackles rise up, consequently I don’t blame myself at all for my illness, I leave that to the professionals.

    On a religious note, OK don’t moan, it is just that I know of a Sicilian woman who is about to be made a saint, she has already been beatified (if that is the correct term) basically all she wanted of life was to serve God, her whole life was plagued with pain and illness, can’t remember what illness or even if known, anyway she is to be sainted for her suffering.
     
  18. blackdog

    blackdog Guest

    Wise words from TheFreePrisoner - I am Catholic and I found faith in trial and error - I took it on myself that my illness was my fault through lack of effort to manage it, hence guilt, but this was not religious in basis more about the persecution people metered out to me because it alleviated them of their own guilt by passing it on to me through blame, because they were disinterested in my welfare and felt lazy or felt afraid and powerless to help through the realisation of a sense of their own vulnerability through knowing about my situation. I tried to get better by ignoring my illness and just hoping it would go away (yes, burying my head) and I worked hard to help myself more etc etc. Then one day, after pushing and pushing to keep going, get with it, stop feeling sorry myself and even, sadly please other people, as if to prove to them my illness was real (sad and of course unnecessary with renewed self-esteem), I ended up collapsing at work with a mini stroke because I pushed - or is that punished myself - for not not being able to `cure' my ME. I exhausted myself through a type of guilt I now recognise as denial about my body's real limits, that I kept pushing beyond, and my fragile body protested vehemently. I now feel closer to God because of my illness and it is interesting how much unGodly treatment I have received for being disabled - & this reinforces the reality that my illness challenges people to look in to their souls and deal with those familiar difficult issues of: not judging me, being compassionate, loving thy neighbour as Jesus taught + letting God decide what's what, not those who misuse their religion to feel superior to me because I am illand they are not - what is interesting is: what happens if the shoe is on the other foot? Will these people be so sure of their opinions then? Re: I love God, I love myself and my illness has taught me humility and I am now more accepting of people and their situations that I don't know enough about.. because I have seen how illness can so radically change people and their situations, beyond their control and suddenly, the world is a much smaller place that is less about guilt and more about a common understanding through the tragedy of suffering, loss of dignity, accepting I am not that diffferent and the added humility of needing to open up and admit I need support & I'm not so self-sufficient as I would like to portray to the world..!

    I am blessed to be a more developed person because my illness has taught me that and it's helped open my eyes about my own self-value, then the value of, long-term ill or not, everyone I meet.
     
  19. valia

    valia Senior Member

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    Hi Blackdog, your post looks interesting and I want to read it, but is there any chance you can break it up a bit, perhaps it is the same for others, but I can't read a mass of text like that, mostly I just pass over them, which I would rather not do.
     
  20. Sunday

    Sunday Senior Member

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    Yes, I have the same problem; I did read some of your post, Blackdog, but I had a hard time reading it all and I was sorry, because the bits I got were very worthwhile.

    thefreeprisoner, I'm glad you spoke up; I didn't mean to imply that all Christians held this punishment-of-sin dogma, or that it is a part of Jesus's teachings, just that it is very widespread and a huge part of our cultural thinking and customs. I think you're entirely right in that, if you look at the theology, Jesus never intended or wanted this kind of thing. Unfortunately, while stories about Jesus specifically favor mercy and forgiveness, the old testament is pretty chock-full of sin and punishment of sin by illness, poverty, destruction of the first-born, turning into pillars of salt, and so forth. (In fact if you want to get into the tricky territory of Job you could say, As flies are to little boys, so are we to the gods: they play with us for their sport.)

    I agree that the sin/guilt/punishment thing is the rot that sets in when spirituality and politics are badly mixed. Interesting that you found that in someone who is Islamic, but maybe not so surprising in some ways since Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all come from the same root.

    My observation has been that there are religious people who are really interested in spiritual life, and there's a much greater number of people who practice religion so they don't have to think for themselves, which is much easier. I think a real interest in spiritual life makes any religion beautiful and useful. But that hasn't stopped an epidemic of really bad religious/cultural/political beliefs. People like you who really investigate their religion and have an active relationship with spirit are the kind of people who can help cure those bad beliefs.
     

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