The uncomfortable feelings from which neurotics suffer, are most commonly comprised of anger, shame, inadequacy, inferiority, jealousy, covetousness -- as well as guilt.
Canadian primal therapist, Janice Berger, explains in her excellent book, Emotional Fitness that not all guilt is neurotic but that a lot of it is. Moral guilt means that something objectively wrong has been done and a feeling of guilt is therefore justified. The overwhelming percentage of guilt which bothers us is neurotic guilt and it is not easy for the sufferer of neurotic guilt to separate the two types of guilt from each other as they both feel the same. Obviously, both types of guilt are often presented as a combination of both rational and irrational guilt.
I had always reasoned that everyone felt guilty because of their early childhood religious indoctrinations. Frank G. Slaughter, M.D., as far as I was concerned, had explained it well. On page 151, of Your Body and Your Mind, he wrote,
. . . (M)any of man's most severe conflicts are intensified by the sense of guilt and sin which religion insists upon instilling into its followers. It would be quite impossible ever to determine the exact amount of psychic damage which has been done by the truism mounted from every pulpit that "man is born in sin." It has undoubtedly filled many a hosplital for the insane, and will fill many more. There is considerable doubt in the writer's mind that God has any desire to be served by driving his childrten into neurosis and psychosis." (1947)
After I began tapping into my accumulation of repressed early traumas some 30 years ago, I began to understand the actual cause of neurosis. Although, the guilt trip was not my trip, I was surprised to learn that its wellsprings for neurotics has nothing to do with what we learned in religion classes or from the pulpit, even if it feels that way.
Guilt can seem so very reasonable to its sufferer and in searching for its cause its victim can come up with so many reasons why he feels guilty. He had been toying with feelings of guilt from the very beginning. He has had lots of practice. The only problem is that he is still latching on to a conclusion he came to as an infant. Religion merely serves as a supporter or reinforcer of his neurosis but is almost never the cause, despite the protestations of those who feel their pain of neurotic guilt. The neurotic interprets the guilt as moral guilt even though it is almost always neurotic guilt.
Neurotic guilt begins in the home and begins very early. Raising guilty children doesn't mean that that parents do it in a patently blatant way. It's not about letting the kid know that its his fault that the milk was spilled; it is much more serious than that . The planting of our mind toxins is often a do-it-yourself job. Trying to make sense of our world from the beginnings of consciousness, we simply decide quite early - like in the crib - why we don't merit the amount of love and concern that we need. No words need be spoken. The infant simply decides that "it's gotta be my fault" and the seed (nay the massive boulder) of neurotic guilt is planted. After that conclusion about one's self, more spilt milk and more "going to confession" just reinforce the feeling. As we age and our defenses weaken, any event which has the slightest feelingwise resemblance to our early deprivation tap into our very early neurotic conclusions we had about ourselves as the guilt tape becomes replayed.
So, the seed of guilt is not necessarily caused by any actions of the goddess and god of the house where the infant resides. Remember, at this point, the infant is trying to make sense of its world as it develops brain connections. Believing that it is guilty may be a logical and reasonable conclusion for the baby to adopt as the infant is continously trying to make sense of of the many causes and effects occurring in its environment. It is this learning process whereby the infant's internal memory banks get infested with false conclusions which made a lot of sense to us, like in, "It's got to be my fault" that I'm not loved - that I'm never touched - that I'm always being hit, ad infinitum.
[ See, Chapter 3 of clinical psychologist, Dr. Robert W. Godwin's, One Cosmos under God, (2004) for an interesting evolutionary and cultural theory of the origins of these false conclusions - these endemic mind viruses, which the author variously labels as "mind parasites," "bad objects" "psychotoxins", "literal neurotoxicities", "psychopathogens", "self replicating psychoviruses" and "self-serving entities." ]
Guilt was never a particularly bothersome feeling in my collection of uncomfortable feelings. Perhaps, dealing with the triggered effects of inadequacy and inferiority left no time or place for the flowering of of that particular psychopathogen.
But my father's history was quite different, although it really was not until he was elderly that he shared with me his discomforting guilt feelings. His god of guilt was reasonably placated by his high degree of religiosity as well as his frequent receiving forgiveness via the sacrament of confession. More trivial triggerings of guilt could be assuaged by his purchasing postage stamps and then intentionally destroying them. This worked well when he felt he has not quite paid his full share of federal income taxes. Making sizable donations to the church was undoubtedly of psychological benefit. One day I humorously chided him in front of a priest, "Pop, now please don't give away all of my inheritance!
During the 1960s when the Catholic church suffered from its first large exodus of priests, my brother was one who departed. My father took his son's actions personally and felt that he was being punished by a wrathful deity for his much earlier pre-marital sexual indiscretions. The confessional, which had previously helped him to withstand lesser triggers was not an adequate solace during his worse attacks.
I tried primal therapy with him a couple of times, but since my efforts were without success, I soon gave up (I am not a therapist). No regressions, no breakthroughs and no insights resulted from my three attempts at introducing him to his own blocked consciousness which held the secret building blocks to his and to all of our individual personality constructs. At the end of his life, when he was nearing his nineties, he was confined to a nursing home because of arteriosclerotic dementia. I visited with him daily. Once, very near the end of his life, I asked him if guilt feelings still remained a problem. He was only able to cry and nod - letting me know that they had so remained.
Also read on this website:
GUILT. . . A Straitjacket for Feeling, Chapter 9, from Emotional Fitness: Discovering Our Natural Healing Power - by Janice Berger