The Phenomenon of Guilt
Anger, depression, guilt, and shame are the product of the thinking that is at the base of violence on our planet.”
Marshall B. Rosenberg
As Old as the Humanity
Guilt has been a universal and seemingly unavoidable human emotion since ancient times and has been an important topic in philosophy, religion, mythology, psychology, literature and the arts. It is not limited to the extreme experiences of war, violence and crime – we all know the agony of guilt for something we did do or failed to do, intentionally or accidentally.
Often guilt doesn't have a voice – and those dealing with it can find themselves trapped in an inner hell. There is a silence which enshrouds war, and veterans might be too ashamed to talk about the pain in their hearts or haven’t found anyone willing to listen. As long as they haven’t been able to understand and cope with the damage of war on their conscience, they won’t be able to understand the experience of the victims either.
And for the victims it can be impossible to understand why the other side doesn’t see their pain and apologize for the suffering they have caused, if they don’t understand the depth of emotional pain the other side is trapped in as well. In giving both sides a voice they can start to hear and understand each other.
We explore questions along the lines of:
· What is the price of guilt, individually and collectively?
· How can we continue living and recover once becoming guilty has changed our life forever?
· What is the relationship between post-traumatic stress and moral injury?
· What is the way out of the prison of guilt and what different paths of coping and healing do people find?
Guilt & Suicides?
In the United States military suicides have increased since the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Many returning veterans are affected by PTSD, with ‘moral injury’ and guilt being discussed as one of the leading causes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Veterans might feel guilty for not having been able to save another service member and suffering from survivor’s guilt, but others are suffering from having acted against their own deeply held moral beliefs, having been ordered to or participated in unnecessary acts of violence, such as killing civilians. What is needed to come to terms with the guilt caused by the destruction of one’s core moral identity, to move forward and heal? Forgiveness? Self-forgiveness? A deeper understanding? What is the first step? Who/what can help?
Are guilt and victim consciousness limbo states which prevent healing and reconciliation? How were many Vietnamese victims able to forgive and why is forgiveness less common in the West? How did Germany as a country deal with the guilt of the Second World War and the Holocaust? Why is Bosnia, 18 years after the end of the bloodiest war since the WWII, still paralyzed by division, enemy images, blame and guilt?
We will talk to those affected about their personal journeys in coming to terms with moral injury and guilt, so their experiences can help others in the same situation - and hopefully anyone who has struggled with having become guilty or victimized at some point in their lives.
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You may start exploring the Project by checking out the following pages:
Unforgiven or dig even deeper to check out Etty Hillesum and a gratitude in a Nazi concentration camp, Jerry Stadtmiller Forgiveness, or Unforgiven page about Simon Wiesenthal inability to forgive a dying Nazi soldier.
Or check out all the pages in the Sitemap.
Scapegoat Complex: Toward a Mythology of Shadow and Guilt by Sylvia Brinton Perera is an in-depth study of victim psychology based on historical ritual dreams, mythology and case material.