How Guilt Harms Us

A middle-aged man feeling saddled with the responsibility of taking care of his mother in her later years as Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia continue to tighten their grip on her has made plans to take her to the doctor at the beginning of the following week. This Friday has been a better day for both of them, she being seemingly very healthy other than what he thinks are anxiety attacks, and being able to settle her usual paranoia he looks forward to her progress with anticipation of what the next week will bring; his positive attitude a rarity in what feels like an imprisonment to him, trying to let someone live their last years as independently as possible.

Very early the following morning he hears her calling for help and goes to her aid. She stands against a counter in the bedroom, her body shaking. He presumes an anxiety attack, but is a little annoyed, and a little mean, as he has dealt with her false alarms many times; however, her pleading for help and actually crying and scared calms him, and he tells her that things are going to be okay and that she needs to calm down and slow her breathing.

He gets her to lie down in bed and she rolls onto her side. He stands there with his hand upon her shoulder as he tells her to slow her breathing, and she does. He sees her breathing more slowly…and then just as suddenly stop breathing.

Resuscitation, pleading, carrying her ragdoll limp body around the room begging her to breath; the actions of a desperate man trying to save his mother, and yet the severity of the situation has not sunk in as he remains relatively calm, in denial, even as the ambulance pulls away taking her to the hospital.

The severity of the situation has not registered until he arrives at the hospital shortly after the ambulance got there, and a doctor asks him to step into a room with him. His body feels a sudden weight upon it as emotion breaks through the shock of denial. He is offered the choice of leaving and the funeral home will pick her up, or he can stay with her until they arrive. He chooses to stay as he walks down a hallway to a room where she lies on her back, a sheet pulled up to her shoulders like a bedsheet, spying the grimaced frown on her face, all too often her look since the disease, as the door closes behind him leaving him to sit beside her…and breakdown into tears.

It’s interesting that guilt is in some ways like a sensationalist news program which only focuses on the negative and ignores anything else. This is the property of stress and guilt: it consists entirely of the negative.

But just how dangerous are negative emotions, negative memories?

In the above example, which is a true story, shortly after her death, the man becomes impotent.

How can guilt make someone impotent?

Well, if we take impotence as a separate issue, the number one cause of impotence is stress, but in the case of stress, it not necessarily chronic; meaning that it happens occasionally but is not a permanent condition.

Guilt is a feeling of responsibility for something bad, and though people may feel that guilt is something that just simply requires someone being forgiven of forgiving themselves, it can go deeper than that as the people most likely to remember the bad things and to blame us are simply ourselves, not others. As a result, guilt buries itself deep into our subconscious minds, working at an unconscious level.

When guilt is present, what we usually associate with it is a resolution, of making up for the wrong, and there are extreme ways we can make up for a wrong, perceived or real, many of which can be harmful to us.

One potential reason for this is that guilt is a lingering catalyst for stress. In the above case of impotence being a result of guilt, the guilt causes stress, but on an unconscious level, yet the physiological effects are the same whether there is an awareness of the stress or not.

Another potential reason deals with an even deeper level: the primordial self. All animals at one point in their fetal development share the same stage where the fetuses are identical. There is a belief among some, myself included, that all species share a genetic code, a set of instructions which defines the purpose of any species; the procreation, the advancement and reproduction of the species.

Feeling the guilt of someone’s death, and having been brought up, the seeds planted, to believe in things like an eye for an eye and like for like, the resolution for being responsible for someone’s death is one’s own death, and being that the primordial self associates the ability to reproduce with life, taking that away effectively renders one dead at the primordial level.

These have just been suggestions as to why something like this might happen. The reason as to why, however, is not as important as simply realizing that guilt can have very real and devastating affects.

Dealing with guilt is not easy. Religion for many offers a resolution for guilt, where there is a higher authority capable of forgiving anything, having the authority to forgive and speaking to such an authority through prayer or through a mediary such as a priest and even having a penance which satisfies the resolution of responsibility.

For many, religion works for forgiveness, but for others it does not, yet it does provide a key in finding forgiveness in oneself; that is to find authority for forgiveness.

Some programs such as the 12 step program uses the simple technique of asking for forgiveness from anyone we have wronged. In order for that to work, however, there must be someone wronged and they must still be alive; though in such programs, and to many of us, a relative or close friend of someone wronged can substitute as an authority figure to give forgiveness.

The most important authority that can forgive is simply us. This is difficult as we have not been trained this way; we don’t easily forgive ourselves.

Overcoming this inability to forgive is not easy. a technique of repetition of positive affirmations can be used to essentially reprogram ourselves to allow us to forgive ourselves.

Repetitive positive affirmations are essentially repeating over and over to ourselves something along the lines of “I have the right to forgive myself, I authorize my own forgiveness, I am free of this.”

Naturally positive affirmations often need to customized to the situation and the above is a very generic example.

Another form of positive affirmation is something that was used in school for many of us for the very reason that it affirms a lesson to us through repetition, though used as a punishment for bad behavior, is repetitive writing. Writing something repeatedly is a powerful tool as it works at many levels including visual, audible (the majority of us speak when we read or write whether we realize it or not), tactile sensory (hand motion and touch), and linguistic.

The writing affirmation is worded like the voiced affirmation, just written down repeatedly. Though some may consider this something for children, the reason it is used is because it is a very powerful tool to instill lessons in children on an unconscious level; they don’t think they learned anything from it, but they did.

Visualization can also be a powerful tool. It is used in situations where there is a specific person or appropriate authority figure and is essentially visualizing the person forgiving us.

What I have presented are a variety of tools one can use to deal with guilt. The intent of this article, though, has not been so much presenting a plan for forgiving oneself, but to point out how harmful guilt can be. Guilt can cause physical harm, such as the case of impotence, and even harmful behavior such as someone seeking out bad relationships or people who can harm them, on an unconscious level, as a way to punish themselves for some perceived wrong whether it is real or not.

Learning to recognize guilt in us and connect it with the detrimental affects it has on us is something which can preserve our health, emotional state, relationships, and so many other things that are part of our lives.

And being able to forgive others is certainly not overrated either.

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The Power of a Smile

Long days and nights on the road, 400 miles to one town, 450 miles to the next. Pavement passes in a dizzying hypnotic spell, the miles roll by with such repetitiveness that awareness of one’s whereabouts at times confused and tangled.

Whether it’s the roads or the trees, buildings and especially sign posts, you’ve seen them all before, hundreds even thousands of times. Yet, ahead, as you pull into that driveway, your destination, and you see it; something you’ve seen thousands of times before, but it is never the same: a smile.

As a photographer for so many years people would naturally assume that smiles were my business. Smiles, however, are not always what someone thinks they are. A smile can be in the eyes, in one’s body, and of course on one’s lips. The smile is more than just an expression; it’s a place, a frame of mind.

As a photographer working with people, smiles come in different forms. Of course there is the innocence of the child who hides nothing, who is as happy and gleeful as their smile would indicate. Even as a baby who does not know the meaning of a smile as we do, but knows how to smile and that smile when it spreads its way across a baby’s face and even erupts into into giggling and the arms and legs kicking in glee, which is their way of saying “Something is right…something is good.”

There’s an elderly woman whose teeth have long since worn, broken, what are left are stained, and some would say that she can’t smile a pretty smile; oh, but she can. Her eyes light up, the ends of her mouth turn upward, and her posture straightens;  she is smiling and she is smiling beautifully.

From a babe newly brought into this world to the worn body long for this world and every age in between a smile is something that encompasses the whole of the body from head to toe, and has power to do so much. But even better than that, it comes with the territory, us, and it costs nothing to use it, but in some moments it might be the most valuable thing you give to somebody, at least to them.

Do you know that smiling is a very useful tool, for yourself and those you touch in your life?

An old adage is that it takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. Numbers vary by who is counting, but it takes more than twice as many muscles to frown than to smile. This is important when you realize that your energy can be sapped through the day by not smiling. When we smile, some muscles relax, therefore it’s not just a difference in the muscles used to smile or frown, it also eases muscles that normally would bring about stress, and stress lowers our energy so we work harder and feel less productive, rightfully so, when we don’t smile.

But does smiling just have to be around others?

Our lives are filled with moments where we could benefit from smiling. Most of us do smile when we are alone in our private time, but not as much as we can. When working out in the yard, sitting at a computer writing, or doing choirs, whatever we may be doing we can reduce our fatigue and stress by smiling while doing it.

One of the keys to effective speaking is smiling. Confidence improves with a smile. Speaking does not become as much of a task when you are smiling. And especially important is you sound different when you smile; a smile can be heard by another person.

When I was in sales, an important key in training telemarketers and salespeople was getting them to smile. When someone is speaking on the phone and you tell them to smile, and in addition to smiling their posture straightens and they sit up and are more aware; they are stronger and more confident and it pays off for them.

Not only is a smile the expression of something being right and good, it is a tool to make it right. A smile can be from within or from without, either spread by another person or begun by ourselves.  We may not have a reason to smile, or feel we don’t, but we can put a smile on our faces and our bodies recognize this and work to reduce stress on an unconscious level, on a physiological level; so don’t feel that a smile has to be justified to use one, it will justify itself.

The power of a smile is amazing. It is well beyond an expression on a face and comes from deep within, and goes deep within; it is part of our entire being.

Being a photographer, I not only got to help people smile, but to capture those moments, and those moments bring smiles to me.

As a writer, maybe I can bring a smile to you. So smile, silly; you’re worth it, aren’t you? :)

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Anderson Cooper Comes Out

Years ago I watched a program called World News Now, an overnight news program on ABC networks which had some regular anchors, but most anchors were rotational, being that they would use them in this time slot when they did not have them in another news program, and it made sense as it gave them experience in a lighter toned presentation than is usual for the news, and gave viewers who worked or stayed up late some companionship in those wee hours of the morning.

Through those doors of World News Now passed many news anchors, some who would become staples in evening news and morning shows, and one such young man with chiseled good looks, a confidence in his voice, an impeccable character in his news reporting, a man who seemingly showed no fear in going places which would have made others nervous to get a story, a human interest story at that, and yes he had prematurely graying hair; this young man was Anderson Cooper.

It was obvious early on that not only did this man have an ability to communicate with an audience, with viewers, and on a level which made it feel like he was talking to you, like he was a friend, but he was also someone to keep an eye on; he was going somewhere, and of his own means, his own merits.

I remember when Anderson Cooper first graduated beyond being a news anchor for ABC and ABC put him as the host of a reality TV show; naturally being a part of World News Now, famous for the World News Now Polka and probably the only accordion playing reporter, and their tongue in cheek humor they often got away with being an overnight show, they had Anderson make an appearance on the show, being now a “big star”.

Anderson came through the doors of the studio, an entourage of rabid fans in tow (actually ABC News staff having fun), trying to get his autograph, telling him that they love him, one may have even gotten in that she wanted to have his baby, while he has to fight them off, then saunters across the studio like a big star; they all had fun that night.

Well, as of this morning, in a more restrained fashion than has been usual for someone of his celebrity, Anderson Cooper announced he is gay in an email he wrote to Andrew Sullivan which was posted on Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Beast.

You know what would be a wonderful day in this world? That would be the day that someone comes out announcing “I’m gay” as their friends look upon them and say “Oh, that’s so old school; what difference does it make?”

A progressive society evolves into something more than it was before. As a society we are not any different from the individual beast which evolves into something stronger and more capable of survival; at least we’re not suppose to be any different.

But we have those who would hang onto archaic outdated ideals which should have died generations ago. They hang onto things like racism, misogyny, and gay bashing. We just over the past decade has an infusion of corruption within our government as political and religious leaders banded together to attack the very spirit of the Constitution and Bill of Rights; rather than respecting the intent of protecting individual rights they wanted to infuse their bigotry into it and try to turn it into something sick and profane.

You will see me bring this up many time as an illustration, because it’s an important lesson I’ve learned from circumstance that not everybody is going to be in a position to have such an experience. I’ve traveled through many states of this country in my work, meeting hundreds of thousands of people, and in all that time I have never met the same person twice.

We are all different. We are not our differences, not defined by our differences, but made up of our differences. Where we differ are the things which make us learn and discover each other, not things which are to be looked down upon and used for hating people.

We as a people need to remind our political and religious leaders to get out  of the past, stop dragging their archaic ideals of bigotry like toy dogs behind them, and come into the present, or just get out period.

And to wrap things up, I would just like to same to whomever may be with Anderson as a steady or a partner that you are a lucky guy and have a real catch there.


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