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Letting Go of Guilt and Shame


Guilt and shame are rocket fuel for addiction, as they create a need to self-medicate in order to escape the pain of just being oneself. Psychedelics like ibogaine, ayahuasca, psilocybin and others have the power to facilitate recovery from addiction by helping us become aware of how we unnecessarily hold on to guilt and shame, rather than simply letting them go.


We all have an internal narrative that defines how we see ourselves and how we experience the world. Most of the time, this narrative is running in the background of our consciousness without us even being aware of it. It is our autopilot setting. It continually judges, assesses and interprets everything that we encounter. In doing so, it sets the parameters of our self-image and self-esteem.


For many of us, this internal narrative is extremely hurtful. It generates guilt by bombarding us with messages like: “It’s my fault that things are not OK. I’ve ruined everything.” This often develops into a narrative of shame and low self-esteem: “I’m a terrible, unlovable and worthless person because of the things I’ve done (or not done).”


It may seem strange, but there is an unconscious part of us that actually wants to continue creating guilt and shame for our own protection, like a kind of defence mechanism that has gone wrong and turned against us. Eckhart Tolle calls this shady region of the psyche the ‘Pain Body’.


The first thing to understand about the pain body is that it is entirely a product of one’s conditioning. For example, somewhere along the line we may have learnt to be critical of ourselves, or that we are not deserving of love and respect. By internalising this idea, we come to expect ourselves to fail, to come up short, to be laughed at and to be rejected. We learn to loathe ourselves and to resist life, precisely because we expect ourselves to ruin everything or for things to end painfully.


In an attempt to protect itself from this fate, the pain body feeds us a barrage of unconscious narratives that are designed to scare us away from opening up to life. It screams at us from deep within our psyche that we are useless and certain to fail. In doing so, it convinces us to isolate ourselves from life – and the best way to do that is to escape from it all through drugs.


When used correctly, psychedelics have the power to help us see through our conditioning and connect to something more authentic. They help us to become more conscious of the pain body so that we can begin disidentifying with the false narratives of guilt and shame that it clings to.


For example, once we can consciously observe the pain body dwelling on the past, we can choose to bring ourselves back to the here-and-now; when we can see the pain body trying to blame us, we can focus on forgiving ourselves; and when we are aware of how the pain body wants to belittle us, we can remind ourselves that we are good enough just as we are.


Psychedelics may not make the pain body go away, but they are tools that help us to raise our consciousness, so that our thoughts and decisions are no longer controlled by our unconscious pain.