Do You Feel Guilty for Having Certain Thoughts?
Is this dog guilty for thinking what he’s thinking? Should he be experiencing shame?
We mostly agree that if I steal a banana I should probably pay a penalty of some sort, even if it’s just guilt and shame.
But what if I only think about stealing a banana? Should I pay a penalty for thinking? And what if I didn’t deliberately think about stealing banana. What if it just popped into my head out of nowhere?
I certainly won’t be arrested for thinking about stealing a banana, right? Okay, but what about an emotional penalty for thinking about it? I should pay penance with guilt and shame, right?
For how long should I pay this penance? A lifetime? For every next time I think about stealing a banana? Maybe I should give my banana away in an attempt to resolve my guilt feelings? Or should I just accept that since I thought about stealing a banana, I deserve to feel guilty?
This kind of guilt doesn’t even come from mis-behaving. No action required. It was just a thought but shame on me.
All I know is that I had a thought about doing something that would have violated my Code of Conduct. “Don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” I wouldn’t want someone to steal my bananas. So it’s wrong for me to steal someone else’s.
But wait! I didn’t even steal anything! I didn’t actually do anything wrong! Why should I feel so guilty about something I didn’t even do???
Guilt Beyond Circumstance: A Different Kind of Guilt
Let’s talk about (Harm Avoidance) OCD; a kind of OCD that involves unwanted, intrusive thoughts about harming self or others.
Nobody’s lifted a finger. They’re just thoughts. They come with a punch in the stomach and a ton of guilt.
It’s guilt beyond circumstance. No event or circumstance has occurred other than in the mind.
You’re not walking on eggshells, you’re “thinking” on eggshells.
When you’re walking on eggshells you’re trying very hard to not upset someone who is hypersensitive and easily agitated.
When you’re “thinking” on eggshells you’re tiptoeing around your mind. Your mind is hyper-responsible. Hyper-aware. Hyper-sensitive. And easily agitated. You try to tiptoe around these thoughts.
Thought Action Fusion: When Thinking Is Considered to be the Same as Doing.
A person with OCD gets confused. They falsely believe a thought is just as bad as an action. This is a cognitive error called, Thought Fusion Action. This cognitive error interrupts lives.
If thoughts are felt to be equivalent to action then you can understand why people with (Harm Avoidance) OCD experience so much guilt. They haven’t done anything, but in their minds thinking about it is just as bad as doing it.
When it comes to a thought vs. an action, a person with OCD says there is no line in the sand. Thought = action = responsibility = guilt. The guilt is the emotional penalty for the wrongdoing of the mind.
People with OCD have an inflated sense of responsibility. Thought Action Fusion is a type of hyper-responsibility, of feeling responsible when you’re not.
The Emotional Penalty of Being Hyper-Responsible is Guilt and Shame
Another example of hyper-responsibility is to believe that you ought to be able to stop what you’re thinking.
The guilt is the emotional penalty for not controlling the mind.
In a room full of 100 people, not many of them are worrying about why they can’t stop having certain thoughts. They don’t have OCD.
Geez, I don’t even know if it’s possible to “be” and not think? Descartes wrote, “I think therefore I am.” In other words, “I know I exist when I am thinking.”
To believe you ought to be able to control what you think about is a false belief. It’s a cognitive error that’s interrupting your life. If you had the power of mind control you’d be rich and famous. Because, you’d be the only one out of 7 billion people who have such control.
We all get weird taboo thoughts. This is a proven fact. You don’t have to have OCD to get weird thoughts. But, if you have OCD then you’re at risk for spending way too much time analyzing these thoughts.
I thought about not reporting that I underpaid for a banana. I didn’t violate my Code of Conduct. Whatever unwanted, intrusive thought you’re having is absolutely no different than my thought.
Nothing has meaning except the meaning you attach to it.
No thought has meaning except the meaning you attach to it.
- Stand up for yourself. You can’t just let OCD push you around with cognitive errors. Recognize them and bulldoze through them.
- You don’t have to pay penance for thoughts unless you want to.
- Be as kind to yourself as you would to your best friend. (Code of Conduct: Don’t do to yourself what you wouldn’t do to others.)
- Trying to control your mind is impossible. If 7 billion other people can’t help what they’re thinking how can you?
- Notice your thoughts and do nothing to get rid of them. They mean nothing unless you attach meaning to them.
This publication is part of a series of posts about OCD and guilt. The next one will have to do with how guilt can cause compulsive behavior.