Self-loathing: How I was taught to feel guilty in a past life

Christianity
In some versions of Christianity sinners are warned against hell and damnation. Photo by Marc Schaefer.

Maybe in a previous life, I was taught to feel guilty and to believe in a version of Christianity where sinners are warned against hell and damnation. This is my personal story.

At a small gathering with a few of my closest friends, one of them, O, told us about a nuisance that tormented him for long periods of his life. He described it as a recurring pain in his forehead and also came up with a possible explanation: “It may be caused by an old belief that I am not allowed to feel good”. 

“Furthermore”, he said, “I think that in a past life, I preached sin and guilt and that a remnant of this sense of guilt is left there in my forehead like a dark stain”.

I doubt that O would get into that rather unusual explanation in other settings but the four of us share mostly everything. Since we are spiritually inclined, we are also very familiar with the concept of reincarnation and receptive to ideas about how past lives may have influenced this one.

I had no problems imagining O preaching such a medieval version of Christianity in a previous lifetime. I envisioned him filled with holy wrath taking his audience to task and warning them about the flames of hell and eternal damnation.

Then suddenly, to show what kind of a preacher he once was, he turned towards me, pointed his finger at me and said in a very decisive manner: “You are a sinner!” And more stuff like that. I was sort of paralyzed and felt as if I was taken back in time. I don’t believe in sin at all but for a moment there, I was captured by his words as if I was one of his past followers.

Feeling guilty and unworthy 

I didn’t get any religious upbringing and words like God, sin and hell were hardly even mentioned in my childhood home. Today I do believe in God but my concept of God is very different from the traditional Christian one.

To me God is certainly not wrathful, but all-loving, forgiving and benevolent. To think that sinners are unworthy and subject to God’s judgment, hell and damnation, is far from my beliefs.

Therefore I was baffled by the ease with which I responded to O’s words and suddenly adopted such unfamiliar ideas. 

How could that be? 

Looking for a plausible explanation, I asked myself if traditional Christian dogmas are actually not unfamiliar to me after all, but only forgotten; maybe I was once a true believer of them and maybe I was really present there in the flesh listening to O’s sermon several lives back.

If that’s the case, then, like O, subconsciously I may still hold remnants of those dogmas even if my conscious beliefs about God and the afterlife are totally different now. 

And then my present day self-esteem issues would make better sense; for instance the fact that I sometimes hate myself for no good reason at all.

Hidden causes of low self-esteem

O’s story and my reaction to it made me wonder if self-esteem (or the lack of it) is not just taught in the formative years of our present lives, as psychologists would have it, but also something we carry with us from past lives. 

The story also pointed to how opposing ideas about the self and its relation to God may coexist in our mentality: 

On the one hand a conscious belief that God is all-loving and that each one of us is absolutely worthy of that love, and yet on the other hand subconsciously we may fear to be unworthy and undeserving.

Even if we were not taught to believe in a wrathful, unloving God in this life we may still harbor that unfortunate idea and along with it a hidden “talent” for looking down on, or even hating, ourselves. 

The unconscious God image may possibly lay dormant or it may actively undermine our self-esteem even if our conscious beliefs are well suited to make us feel good about ourselves.

If that’s the case, then I think it is important that we become aware of our subconscious God image and try to counter its negative influence. Being aware of self-hatred, and its causes, makes us better equipped to handle it. Even just naming it has, in my experience, a very beneficial effect. 


Get to know more about handling self-esteem issues and further investigate the connection between worldview, God image and perception of self: HIGH SELF-ESTEEM: YOU NEED AN ALL-EMBRACING WORLD VIEW