It’s widely acknowledged that guilt is one of the main emotions that can keep victims and survivors of sexual abuse silent, including men… men just like you and me!
As an emotion, guilt is what we feel as a consequence of our actions when we believe that the action was the breaking of a moral rule, social norm, personal value or statutory law that we consider to be valid or right. It’s that feeling we get when we think or say quietly to ourselves “I shouldn’t have done that”. But don’t let this confuse you, its not the feeling of shame, we’ll talk about that in its own section.
However guilt can be a confused emotion, for example, something we did that we considered ‘bad’ as a child, we can feel as guilt as an adult.
“I shouldn’t have done that” isn’t the only thought that that can continue to dwell in ones mind, others include “I should have stopped myself”, “If only I had…”, “why didn’t I just…”, “if only I’d”, and so on and so on.
Being pre-occupied with the event(s) is the reason these thoughts still enter your head. But the event is in the past, placed there by the movement of time. Maybe if you had known then what you know now, things might have been different? Maybe the event wouldn’t have happened then? Maybe you could have done something differently? But should you be feeling guilty about every action? What if you hadn’t been bad but were led to believe you had, surely you don’t have anything to feel guilty about the do you?
So how do you move forward then?
Past Behaviour – Present Knowledge.
Acknowledging the reality of the past action or behaviour is a good place to start.
- What part did you play in the action?
- Why did you carry out the action?
- What was the then alternative?
Accepting that you behaved in a certain way has to be the next step in the right direction, but maybe its time to tell yourself that you now consider the actions you carried out in the past not to be acceptable to you now.
That doesn’t make you a bad person does it? Surely doesn’t it mean instead that your behaviour then isn’t acceptable to you now and therefore show development, self awareness and personal growth?
Maybe what you did then was based upon the situation you were then in? or based on the knowledge that you had then? But now you know differently. Now you’ve had time to think about who did what and what part you played, maybe now you can see a reason (its not an excuse) as to why you behaved in the way you did?
Look at why you feel guilty, is it due to something that you had control over at the time, or due to an abusive history that you had no control over? Were you able to handle situation differently, but chose to behave the way you did, regardless of the circumstances?
If everyone else has forgiven you for your action then why don’t you forgive yourself. You could base your forgiveness on what you know now or your development. Continuing to beat yourself up about it only adds fuel to the flame until it becomes a huge fire, out of control.