In gestalt psychotherapy (psicoterapia gestaltista) I say that guilt is the lid on impotence. It is also a way of denying, forgetting, disregarding, alienating oneself from that which weakens, which immobilizes. Today, one of the most striking examples of division and impotence that generate guilt is the experience of women who enter the labor market, whether those who constitute a family with children or those who choose to live alone. In the therapists’ offices environment, it is common the report of mothers who feel guilty about their children, leaving them with babysitters while they leave home to work, to watch a movie, or to go to a restaurant, among other things. They feel guilty when they do anything that is not justified for the good of their children or their husbands. Feeling guilty is thus alienating oneself from one’s commitment, one’s role as a mother, one’s inauthenticity. Being a person and having children are antagonistic realities for these mothers, there is a division and therefore guilt, lack of freedom, lack of own criteria for acting. Likewise, single women, who choose to pursue a career at the expense of marriage and motherhood, feel guilty for not meeting family and social expectations. When they give in to pressure, they comply with rules and roles considered unimportant by them, but fundamental for their social and family insertion.
Guilty individuals can be acquitted by the other; they can be released, supported, or punished by the laws. Notwithstanding, when someone feels guilty, nothing frees him/her or absolves him/her from this guilt until he/she realizes his/her process of impotence, fear, difficulty, and the use of the other for convenience and support. Those who feel guilty can even use guilt as a justification, an explanation of the error or the success, an explanation of their own life. However, what they cannot do is to free themselves from it, either as a torturous tool or as a key to opening new perspectives through the help they would get. Only when one realizes one’s own impotence, nonacceptance, and problems in front of the other and in front of oneself and society, does one realize to have used guilt, fears, and justifications as a lid for this frightening, annihilating situation that reduces human possibilities.
Guilt experiences are often intense and dizzying, regardless of the seriousness of the situations in which they are inserted. A father can, for example, feel guilty for a long time about his son’s involvement with drugs and theft by realizing that this is a consequence of a failed education that turned a blind eye to copies or the purchase of test and competition templates, or an education that even encouraged these attitudes. One is an example of integrity or dishonesty to children, partners, and friends in everyday life. This inconsistency - “small mistakes, small flaws” - will turn into mirrors, into ways of living for oneself and the others around. It is only through the globalized perception of what happens, through the lucidity (generated by therapeutic questions) and acceptance of life processes, that impotence is accepted and the feeling of guilty stops.
Surrendering to one’s own guilt - a way of dealing with it - configures the victims, always accepting humiliation; or configures the authoritarian, arrogant, capable of all slaughters, irresponsibility, and evil in the name of truths maintain their dehumanization, disguise, and power.
Guilt repairs nothing, it rather destroys everything since it relies on displacements that hide incapacities, fears, angers, and hatreds.
To feel guilty is to position oneself in disguise, in deception, in the make-believe that puts together reasons and causes of one’s own experiences to justify one’s own life. It means covering problems with justifications and thus feeling either capable, powerful, or a victim that purges sorrows and fears, insecurities, and hesitations.
Guilt is usually dealt with by valuing it; its maintenance thus justifies being good, needy, incapable, and fearful.
In certain situations, guilt is the lever of behavior. Often, only through the experience of guilt - tensions and pressures - does antithesis emerge, that is, a differentiating force that signals behavior. This is because as the impasses appear, fragmentations occur, and the monotony of the balanced division is broken.
Stressful situations can be restructuring situations due to the dynamics - the movement - they trigger. By covering impotence, guilt acts as a stabilizer, toughening behaviors, and despite imprinting dynamics, it creates stagnant changes. In psychotherapy, we know that change can mean either an adjustment or a transformation. The psychotherapist exists as a provider of antitheses, of transformations, opening the transcendent and humanizing possibilities of the individual. Regarding guilt, this will never mean the transformation of one’s experience from externalities such as social absolution, forgiveness, or religious atonement, but rather the questioning of their fears and impotence, rescuing participation, congruence, and availability.
So how to deal with guilt? Accepting, facing, dealing with one’s own impotence; living in the present. Relational dynamics experienced in the present allows the consistency of fully participating with the other, with the world, with the motivations of one another.