In previous articles, I discussed the connection between sexuality and emotions, particularly anger and shame. In this post, I want to focus more on the emotion of guilt. In my mind, one of the first things to understand about guilt is that it is very closely connected to anger. In fact, I believe that guilt is the flip side of anger. To illustrate this idea, let’s take a look at what someone may say to another person if he or she is provoked to anger. For example, someone who has become angered may state, “You messed up,” to the other individual. Now what may someone say to himself if he feels guilty about something he has done? How about, “I messed up.”
Anger– “You messed up.” Guilt– “I messed up.”
Just replace the “you” with “I” and anger becomes guilt. My point here is that what we call guilt is really anger directed at oneself. When we feel guilty, we are angry at ourselves.
The other crucial aspect of guilt is that it always entails punishment. Someone who is found guilty in a court of law is going to be handed down a punishment by the judge. In this way, criminals have been judged to be guilty by society and are deemed to be worthy of appropriate punishment. Sometimes the punishment may merely be a fine if the guilt is moderate. Other times, punishment entails a prison sentence for guilt that is more severe. And of course, the death penalty is the ultimate punishment for ultimate guilt.
Finally, guilt is always subjective. One jury may convict an individual for a certain crime, but another jury may find another individual innocent of the same charges. We may like to think that we live in a world full of order and clear-cut rules, but even something like murder is quite subjective. Premeditated murder usually is punished, but what killing someone out of self-defense. Or killing someone during the duties of war? It’s all pretty subjective. If this seems like a macabre and random subject, I’m going somewhere with this. The point that I’m trying to make is that since most guilt is subjective, when we direct guilt at ourselves, that is also very subjective. Two people can perform the same action, such as let’s say stealing some food at the grocery store, but one person may feel guilty while the other doesn’t. One person has no remorse for a serious crime, while another person feels extreme guilt over trivialities.
In summation, guilt is a very subjective, idiosyncratic experience that involves directing anger and punishment at oneself. The guilt can be about one single specific event, or most commonly, can present itself as a pervasive emotion encompassing many areas of an individual’s lived experience. So what is this guilt all about? I would argue that for a certain percentage of people, the guilt that they experience is fundamentally about the way that they feel about their anger. What I mean is that they are so uncomfortable with feelings of anger and rage that they experience towards others, that they turn on themselves instead and experience it as guilt. In other words, the guilt is a punishment, or retribution, for the rage that they feel. In this sense, fundamentally, guilt is a form of censure, or inhibition, of feelings of anger and rage. It feels safer to focus the anger at oneself than direct it at its original target.
Let’s take a look at how this plays out in sexual experience. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, guilt inherently takes on the form of inhibition. In my experience, most sexual dysfunction, ranging from erectile dysfunction (ED) to rapid ejaculation to delayed ejaculation to vaginismus to pain syndromes such as dyspareunia involve some form of inhibition. Most folks who struggle with ED, for example, have absolutely nothing wrong with them physically, and can indeed masturbate on their own with no problems getting erect. But it’s only when they attempt to have sex with a real-life partner that their brain puts on the brakes, cuts off (inhibits) the blood flow, and all of a sudden their naturally healthy and working reproductive system ceases to function. Solo masturbation, no problems. Partnered sex, inhibition. The other sexual dysfunctions work in a similar manner. Let’s take a look at delayed ejaculation. That’s when a man has extreme difficulty orgasming through intercourse. Similarly to ED, these folks usually have absolutely no problems masturbating to completion. But once a partner is introduced, the ability to orgasm now becomes inhibited. In ED, it is the ability for arousal that is inhibited, while in delayed ejaculation, it is orgasm that is affected.
I don’t have the space for it in this article, but in my experience, sexuality and aggression are often interconnected. I’ll write more on this topic in a future post. Suffice it to say, many of my clients who struggle with sexual dysfunction have told me that the rare times when they had no trouble performing was when they were in enraged and fully in touch with those emotions. And if you think about, the act of intercourse (at least for a man) involves a penetrative act of going in and out, not unlike a stabbing motion (but of course stabbing with a penis not a weapon). Indeed, the act of sex itself requires an almost selfish ruthlessness, not too dissimilar from aggression. Folks who struggle with sexual dysfunctions do not allow themselves this kind of ruthlessness; they in fact inhibit themselves from experiencing it, as if burdened with a deep and heavy guilt. I find that this guilt extends itself into other areas of life, but feels most pronounced in sexual inhibition and resulting dysfunction.
I will speak more about resolving this level of guilt in future articles.