My very first memory of shame and guilt happened when I was six years old. My mother was in the hospital, and had been there for most of the month. My father went to visit her every night after work, but I went with him only this one time. I'm not sure why it was only this one time, but I suspect that she thought she would be coming home and didn't want her young daughter to see her in a hospital bed. We had not been visiting long when I became fascinated watching a reflection from a big window in the room. It was a nurse who was feeding a comatose patient with a feeding tube. In those days most people were two to a room, and I was later to learn this young woman would live many years in this condition. At any rate, I must have been staring at the reflection for some time when the nurse looked up - gave me a dirty look - and angrily swept the curtain closed completely - cutting off my view of the window. I was so frightened, ashamed that I was watching something that evidently I wasn't supposed to watch, that I begged my father to leave. I grabbed his hand and started pulling him to the door. I was so worried the nurse would come out from the curtain and tell my parents that I had been watching her.
This would be the last time I would see my mother alive. She never made it home from the hospital.
Young children are what we call 'concrete thinkers' in that everything is literal, right now, immediate. It will take years before they are able to think in more abstract terms. Yet, it is in childhood that we often learn shame and guilt. I remember a few times my daughters relating something back to me that had made them feel bad about themselves as children, and in all instances - it hadn't been that big of a deal! They had thought it was traumatizing, but viewed from an adult perspective it was simply not anything they should have been worrying about. I think this happens throughout our lives. We do not cut ourselves a break and realize we are here to learn, to make mistakes, to grow through pain and calamity, and that from a lifespan perspective we will understand life differently at different times of our lives. It's easy to look back with an adult perspective and see how dumb we were as adolescents, but unfortunately we often drag our guilt and shame along with us.
You may harbor guilt from childhood that is affecting today. Gill Edwards from Stepping Into the Magic, suggests guilt from a stolen lolly pop as child may manifest as a deliberate block from ever having money to spare, or from setting up your own business. Having heard that your mother nearly died during childbirth gives you asthma - a reluctance to breath.
It is often resentment in disguise. When we feel we have no right to feel angry it is often converted to guilt. Here then, from her book, is a guided meditation for releasing guilt and shame:
"Relax deeply, then find yourself in a peaceful place in nature. Ask your Basic Self to join you - and to show you any memories which make it feel ashamed or guilty. Reassure it that whatever it shows you, you will send it only love and forgiveness. Then sit and wait patiently ...
The answers might come as memories, images, thoughts, feelings, sensations or symbols. Whatever comes up, feel love for your Basic Self. If specific events come to mind, perhaps offer a loving new perspective to your Basic Self. For example, point out how hurt, frightened, jealous or young you were at the time. Or convert the guilt back into anger. Or remind your Basic Self that it is OK to make mistakes, and tell it what lessons you learned from the situation. Or reassure it that there is nothing to feel guilty about, since it didn't cause any harm. Or just remind it that it is loved, simply for being. (Occasionally the Basic Self wishes us to make amends in some way if we have hurt someone else, but it is often content to be forgiven.)
Keep asking whether there is anything else to be released, until every memory has been cleared, right up to the present day. (This might take two or more sessions.)
Now walk with your Basic Self in search of a fountain - a magical fountain made of crystal, with water cascading down. This is the Fountain of Grace. As you step into this sparkling fountain with your Basic Self, immersing yourself in its waters, you will be released from the past, forgiving yourself and others. You will know that you are loved. Bathe in the Fountain of Grace until you can really feel this emotional shift. Then gently come back to the room
More than one of you suggested I watch the following video. Wise souls that you are:
Next up: Doubt and Confusion