A life filled with guilt is too much for our souls to bear. We were never designed to carry this burden and if we don’t deal with it, it can lead to shame and condemnation. If you are carrying guilt, read on to see how to get relief.
- Guilt -being responsible for or feeling responsible for breaking a law, committing an offense, being wrong, committing a violation.
The world uses guilt as a form of control and punishment. You can see this in advertising (an engagement ring should be 2 months salary), religion (you should pray and read your bible more), parenting (if you don’t obey you are bad), and relationships (if you really loved me you would…..). These are just a few examples. If you can be made to feel bad about yourself, you will respond the way the controller wants you to respond. If you were born without guilt, none of these tactics would work.
God created the emotion of guilt to help us know that we have crossed a boundary or violated a rule so that we can correct the action and reconcile. You can see the use of this emotion in the garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve violated God’s rule not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they realized they were naked and they hid. Guilt causes separation. God did not want to be separated from man so He asked why they were hiding and if they had eaten from the tree He told them not to eat from. God obviously knew they had eaten from the tree, otherwise they wouldn’t have known they were naked. So why did God ask Adam why they were hiding? It was to give Adam a chance to repent and reconcile. But instead of repenting, Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. Then God handed out consequences starting with the serpent and ending with Adam.
In order to deal with guilt effectively, you must be able to identify it. You can start by noticing when you feel bad and then look for a rule you may have broken, something you said or did that made someone else feel angry or sad, or something you said or did that made you feel angry, sad or embarrassed.
You also want to notice if you feel bad any time someone else has a negative emotion. This is called “false guilt”. You could have learned to feel false guilt if you were around others that didn’t take responsibility for their behavior and instead blamed it on you. For example, you may feel guilty whenever someone is crying. This could be in response to someone who regularly blamed you for their sadness.
Choose Your Reaction
If you are avoiding someone out of guilt feelings and you want to reconcile the relationship, then you can apologize for your behavior, make amends, and ask for forgiveness. This will usually reconcile the relationship. If the other person is avoiding you, you can ask if you have offended them and then follow the same process after you find out the offense. If you broke one of your own rules, you can always apologize to yourself, forgive yourself, and work to set up new ground rules to make better choices for yourself in the future.
When I realized that I kept going into debt to further my education because I thought I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to make money, I chose to forgive myself for underestimating my talents and abilities. Then I created a new rule that I had to utilize the information from my last class before I could buy a new class.
If you feel guilt but don’t want to reconcile the relationship, then you will need to sort out the reasons why. One reason may be that you are involved with a blamer. In this case, you may want to put some distance in the relationship until you get a good handle on the guilt cycle. Once you can see things clearly, you may want to confront the blamer’s behavior or limit your time with the person.
I grew up with a blamer who had a substance abuse problem. This person was in my family. Once I understood they would not be taking responsibility for their behavior, I chose to limit my time with this person.
I had another close relationship with a blamer. We had many conversations about how it was not possible for everything to be my fault. Over time, I was able to set healthy boundaries and he was able to take responsibility for his behavior. This relationship was able to be reconciled.
Another reason you may feel guilt and not want to reconcile is that you need time to sort through your own feelings. You may have been hurt and have some old wounds that need to be healed. If you are being hurt on an on-going basis, you may need to remove yourself from the situation to allow your mind, emotions and body to calm down and feel safe. You may need to learn what is healthy and how to set boundaries. You may need to learn confrontation and negotiation skills. If you have addictions or hurtful habits of your own, you would want to seek help.
Practice, practice, practice! You will know you have mastered your thinking, emotions and behavior around guilt when you can identify the emotion, understand what caused the emotion, and make a wise behavioral choice around the situation that sets you up for success in the future.
I have let guilt make decisions that caused me to spend too much money, over commit to work or others, volunteer for things I didn’t want to do, stay in relationships that were bad for me, eat too much junk food, etc.
Success would look like:
Realizing you over committed yourself and asking to change your commitment
Hurting someone’s feelings and asking them to forgive you
Scheduling downtime or spending money to care for yourself
Spending less time with someone out of obligation
Think back on a time you felt guilty. Identify the situation that caused you to feel guilt. Was it because of your behavior or words or someone else’s behavior or words (false guilt)?
Are there any actions (amends or forgiveness) you could take today to mend the relationship? Do you need to forgive yourself and restore your own self-trust?
Is there a specific area in your life that produces more guilt?
Can you change a belief or behavior to prevent you from experiencing the guilt?
What can you put in place to prevent the same situation from occurring in the future?