The nuns taught us about the different kinds of sins – venial sins, a sort of lesser gateway sin that wouldn’t send us directly to hell, unlike mortal sins – like killing someone – which would send us directly to hell. You would burn in hell for eternity no matter how many Hail Mary’s you said. Of course, as second- and third-graders, we hadn’t committed any mortal sins but they were out there.
And there were those poor little babies who died before they were baptized. They ended up in limbo – heaven’s waiting room. They didn’t get into heaven because there original sin hadn’t been washed away by pouring some water over their little heads. So, your parents better get your little brother baptized or he could END UP IN LIMBO!!!
I got so scared of being bad and had convinced myself that I WAS bad that as soon as I was able,, I went to confession. In fact, I went to confession so much that they told me I didn’t have to go so much – which was a huge relief because as a little kid I had better things to do than keep a running tally of my venial sins.
I haven’t gone to confession in years. I like to think I dial direct. When I feel guilty, which is still a lot, I deal directly with God.
Still, I’ve done a lot of bad stuff. I don’t remember a lot of it because in my drinking days – before I got sober – I blacked out when I drank. So, I probably committed a whole lot of sins than I remember and I’m sure they are going to come back and bite me in the ass when I’m interviewing with St. Peter.
I know my guilt didn’t cause my depression but I’m sure it had something to do with it – or my recovery from it. I’m not blaming the Catholic Church. That would probably be a sin.
My issue with guilt surfaced recently when I read an article that began with this:
“Excessive guilt is a known symptom of adult depression, but a new study finds that such feelings in childhood can predict future mental illness, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.
The link seems to center around the anterior insula — a brain region involved in the regulation of perception, emotion and self-awareness that has also been linked to mood disorders, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia.
Researchers at Washington University of St. Louis conducted a 12-year longitudinal study of 145 preschool-age children. Between the ages of three and six, the children were assessed for depression and guilt. Between the ages of seven and 13, the children had fMRI brain scans every 18 months. The research team plans to continue studying the children for at least five more years.
More than half of the 47 preschoolers diagnosed with depression displayed pathological guilt, compared with 20 percent of the non-depressed preschoolers. The researchers found that the children with high levels of guilt, even if they weren’t depressed, had smaller anterior insula volume — which has been found to predict later occurrences of depression. Children with smaller insula volume in the right hemisphere, related to either depression or guilt, were more likely to have recurring episodes of clinical depression when they got older.
My anterior insula must be the size of a peanut. I would love to have a brain scan and find out. It would be interesting, too, if those researchers would look at the size of the anterior insula of other folks in their 50’s who went to Catholic elementary schools pre-Vatican II and compare them to kids who went to public schools (who walked on the other side of the street from the Catholic kids. Probably because we were sinners.)
It’s likely too late to beef up my anterior insula. But it is invaluable for kids who have pathological guilt. What if kids with these symptoms could have brain scans (covered by insurance!) and clinicians could implement preventive measures or alert parents to the potential for their child to become depressed? Kind of like how genetic testing can help clinicians learn if a patient has a gene that will make her more susceptible to cancer.
Can you imagine the misery and suffering that could be avoided?
Praying Nun available from Shutterstock.
Confession sign available from Shutterstock.