Psychological Self-Help

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As your world expands, relatives, siblings, religion, teachers,
friends, TV, and books start to influence your morals. If you aren't an
unusually "thoughtful" or "questioning" child, much of your guilt may
be a result of hand-me-down values, not moral principles you have
carefully studied and chosen (see chapter 3). You can hardly be in
charge of your own life unless you, as a thinking adolescent and adult,
have decided your own goals, purposes, and values. 
Although some of the passed-on morals, like honesty and fairness,
have stood the test of time and the challenge of intelligent
questioning, certainly some of our guilt comes from fallible people or
social tradition and religious beliefs which may need to be reviewed
occasionally to see if the values are still valid in today's world. For
example, in my classes sometimes I ask the students to anonymously
write a secret--something they would be afraid to tell us openly--on a
piece of paper, knowing it will be read in class. Then the class
responds to each "secret," usually with a lot of acceptance,
understanding, and empathy. About half of the secrets are about sex:
"I've had sex with someone I didn't love," "I've had sex with someone
of the same sex," "I masturbate," "I'm attracted to well developed
women/men," "I'm not a virgin" and so on. None of these acts are
inherently harmful to others but our society has a lot of sexual taboos
that produce guilt. 
I remember a young and attractive but distressed coed who sought
counseling after a date with her new boyfriend who pushed for sex.
Neither had a means of birth control so she masturbated him. That
seemed a lot wiser to me than having intercourse, but her priest was
harshly critical at confession because masturbation is an "unnatural
act." Her guilt resulted from the same religious condemnation of sex
that had resulted in religious rules in the sixteenth century against
married couples having intercourse on more than half of the days of
the year (see Taylor, 1954, or Tannahill, 1982, to understand why the
church fathers have been so concerned with sex). 
Some of our guilt is almost totally irrational. For example, some
married couples feel guilty about any sexual caressing that occurs
outside the bedroom even though no one can see them. Many young
children of divorcing parents feel it is their fault when the children
were in fact a binding force, not the cause for friction between the
parents. Maybe the child had wished one parent were not around. But,
more likely, the child simply misunderstood his/her role in the conflict
between his/her parents. Other examples of unreasonable guilt are
when a young adult decides to handle sex differently than his/her
friends (see the woman who was ashamed of her virginity in chapter
10) or decides to support a different political party or religion than
his/her parents follow. Many of our sources of guilt need to be
reconsidered. Remember, some of this guilt comes from the 5-year-old
inside us with hand-me-down ideas. 
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