Monday, May 11, 2009

Guilty Conscience or Prohibitive Conscience?

FRAN HAD BATTLED all her relatively long life to satisfy her now-ageing mum. It seems that from Fran’s early childhood dear old Mum habitually made Fran feel guilty if she didn’t do things the way Mum wanted her to. From Fran’s choices of what to wear and what to eat, to choices around partners, to leaving home to live interstate, her mother harangued her with little pointed jibes right through her life.

Fran now reflects upon these facts as she settles Mum into an aged-care facility. Fran forgives her mum, but her upbringing and treatment have left a seemingly indelible mark on her psyche.

Fears of disappointing people, being misunderstood or of being rejected are unfortunately part and parcel of life. There seems no shortage of people prepared to inflict guilt and shame on us if we let them.

For Fran, this is her connection of experience to this world--it’s the way this world works for her--so much did she contend with in her family. Only later in life has Fran realised that her mother had been the victim of the same thing with her mother--and this is the propagation of a generational curse--an all too common problem in many families.

What Fran shows signs of is an unhealthy conscience weighed down by prohibitive moral training. Yet the “prohibitive conscience[1] is not a guilty conscience; it is an ongoing state of potential guilt.”[2] (Italics added.) The prohibitive conscience leads us to expect the worst, and as mentioned above, it’s fear--not love--that drives it.

There’s no question that many of us are plagued by a guilty conscience, at least occasionally. Often this is well-founded. We rightly feel guilty or ashamed for some of the things we do. But then we have a choice to stay there or not.

A healthy conscience is neither prohibitive nor hardened--both of these are unhealthy extremes. It can feel guilt but then it does something about it, fixing the situation so guilt is no longer experienced.

In an upcoming article I will share three ways to assuage a prohibitive conscience.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] A prohibitive conscience is often called a ‘guilty conscience,’ but there are subtle differences. A guilty conscience is situational--we all feel this from time to time. A prohibitive conscience is basically a fear-based worldview which is personally and otherly destructive.
[2] Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo, Let the Children Come… Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way (Happy Valley, South Australia: Growing Families Australia, 2002), p. 95.

No comments: