The More Knowledge You Have,
The Better Choices You Can Make
Do you know the difference between 'healthy guilt' and 'false guilt'? You
can't change what you don't know or understand. Here, I'll explain the
profound differences between true and false guilt, so you can begin today
liberating yourself from the torment of emotional bondage caused by guilt.
On This Page . . .
Do you feel emotionally burdened but don't know why? Do you feel
emotionally numb? When you feel the slightest hint of anger, sadness,
disappointment or guilt, do you turn to food, drugs, alcohol, shopping or
other forms of self-soothing behaviors for comfort? If so, you may be
emotionally imprisoned by guilt. Depression, addictions, eating disorders,
and many other emotional problems are often rooted in underlying guilt.
Guilt is one of the most painful of human emotions,. One of the most
disturbing features of guilt, is we often think we have no control over it.
Guilt can be a life-long tormentor when we don't know how to resolve it.
By the time you finish reading this page, you will a clear picture of the
difference between true or healthy guilt and false guilt. I will give you a
powerful exercise you can do to begin today to free yourself from guilt.
- Healthy guilt is a strong emotion which comes from a well- developed
conscience. It is the voice inside of us that helps control our behaviors.
- Our country and communities have 'moral codes' which work
together. Using the Ten Commandments as a guideline can be a good
source for true guilt.
- Healthy guilt is what keeps our societies functioning in a well
organized manner so we can get along.
- Healthy guilt provides us with 'rules for living' together, so there is
not chaos and disorder.
- For most of us, we value the importance of being reminded we've
been hurtful, destructive or deceitful to another.
Below is an outline of the life cycle of healthy guilt, of which we have all
experienced in our lifetime. Healthy guilt has stages and has an end:
- You do something morally, ethically or legally wrong. Within minutes,
hours or days, depending on how strongly and how long you can keep
the demons of true guilt out of your head, the emotion takes over your
thinking. The more you try to silence the screams of guilt, the louder
they become. You cannot run. You cannot hide. Healthy guilt shouts
until you do the right thing.
So true guilt makes it's blaring emotion known until you can deny
- You might try to deny guilt, but healthy guilt is meant to linger until
addressed. There isn't enough alcohol, drugs, money, or shopping to
numb the haunting chase of true guilt, though many try. Healthy guilt
is meant to bring you down. After all, you did something wrong against
another person or society. Many 'defense mechanisms' are used to try
to deny true guilt: rationalizing, justifying, minimizing, distorting,
intellectualizing . . . better known as excuses, excuses, excuses.
no more. And that's healthy.
- You feel remorseful. Based on your perception of yourself as an
upstanding citizen with strong character, you make the right decision.
Your admission of guilt leads you to feel remorseful, and remorse
prompts you to express your feelings to the one you harmed. Two
simple words "I'm sorry" have healed many hearts.
- You ask for forgiveness. You recognize you are truly sorry and had a
lapse in judgement. You have learned a lesson. Redeemed, you move
on with your life. You have made amends.
- Reconciliation. You are at peace with yourself. Emotional freedom is
experienced, increasing your personal power and the freedom to be
who you are in relationships. You have renewed energy to think
clearer. Most important, you are being true to yourself.
- End of cycle. The cycle of healthy guilt ends. You are given the gift of
forgiveness and the ability to forgive others, now free to move on.
False guilt has a few different names: neurotic guilt, unhealthy guilt, and
over reactive guilt, but the definition is all the same:
- False guilt is an excessive amount of guilt which is out of proportion
to the event.
- False guilt lingers . . . often times for years.
- False guilt has no end, interferes with healthy emotions, a child's
development and normal daily living, diminishing the quality of life.
Since false guilt provides no way out, no resolve, and no end to the
madness of confused emotions, it can cloud a child's thoughts and feelings,
and interfere with emotional and relationship development. This
interference with a child's development may cause serious relationship
problems in adult life. The following relationship issues are often rooted in
- Confusion About Right and Wrong
- Distorted Emotions
- Lack of Boundaries
- Confusion About Safety Issues
- Low Self Esteem
- Co-dependency Issues
- Lack of Assertiveness
If you suffer from false guilt, here are a few of it's characteristics you
- Low Self Esteem
- Weight Issues
- Compulsive Behaviors
- Obsessional Thoughts
- Relationship Issues
- Take responsibility for everything that goes wrong
- You are a People Pleaser
- You are the Peace Keeper
- You want everyone happy
- You hold in your anger, and usually take it out on yourself
False guilt usually originates in childhood and can come from
different sources. Here are a few:
- Guilt induced by parents. One of the most powerful modes of
controlling children is by guilt induction. Spilling the milk at the
kitchen table becomes a mode of angry expression by a parent in
order to control the child in the future. "How stupid can you be? You
are so clumsy!" The child believes he has done something morally
wrong instead of having a simple accident, and confusion about
emotions are instilled.
- A child who learns to assume responsibility for everything. When
children hear put downs daily, they come to believe they are
responsible and feel guilty for everything that goes wrong. Not
learning the difference between true guilt and false guilt, these
children feel guilty for everything that goes wrong in the household.
Because it is impossible to deal with false guilt (there is no end),
children often look for dysfunctional ways to deal with false guilt.
- Induced guilt by teachers or adult authorities. Classrooms can be a
source of humiliation and embarrassment if the teacher uses guilt to
control students. Excessive practices and techniques can induce false
guilt. When a child is taunted on the playground further by bullies or
unkind children, these actions often induce further emotional problems
such as shame. Children rarely know how to defend themselves
against these intensely negative emotions.
- Unintentional accidents. Accidents are a part of learning in the life of
a child. When a child is made to feel guilty for spilling the milk, or for
every small accident, they internalize the message "I am bad",
instead of having the opportunity to learn from the mistake.
- False guilt originates from another person's opinion, not necessarily
grounded in morals, ethics or wrong doing. Grandma said "Eat every
morsel on your plate, since children are starving in Africa." Your
mother told you growing up "You were the cause of the divorce
between your parents." Because your 'jock' father did not respect
you not wanting to play sports, he made fun of you and called you a
'sissy'. Children often internalize and believe the opinions and
judgements they hear about themselves from people they love.
Just as true guilt has a cycle, so does false guilt:
- You engage in a particular behavior. However, the act is not a moral,
ethical, or legal issue, and not related to wrong doing.
- You feel the intense emotion of guilt, but are not able to recognize it
as false guilt, so you believe you have done something wrong.
- You can't let it go. You're tormented. There is no resolution in sight.
You have no way out.
- The burden gets heavier. You can't sleep. You try to deny, cover up,
numb yourself. Nothing works. The painful feelings of guilt become
unbearable, effecting every area of your life.
- You discover ways to temporarily numb the pain, and choose one of
the following in hopes of ending the torment: overeating, drug abuse,
alcohol abuse, compulsive shopping or gambling.
- The cycle of 'false comfort' has now begun, but comes with additional
problems such as weight issues, gambling, addictions, spending and
more. The problem of false guilt is now an emotional monster as you
continue to deny, run, and distort.
- You feel depressed. Months or years down the road, you now have
behaviors and experience symptoms you never had before. You have
trouble sleeping, feel anxious, and are tormented by uncomfortable
thoughts. You can't focus, you're sad . . . you're depressed.
- You talk to a professional therapist. In the first session, the therapist
gives you feedback based on listening to you carefully and what you
shared about your life. The therapist says, "I think you're angry."
You would have been insulted if it hadn't have hit a nerve. "I am
angry" you confess. "But when I feel angry, I feel guilty."
The cycle-with-no-end can continue for a lifetime.
You decide you've had enough of the pain
and make a different choice.
- You learn the differences between true guilt and false guilt. You begin
to realize there is an end to the madness of the false guilt you've been
carrying around for years.
Absolutely. Every day, people are freed from the chains of guilt. No one
needs to go through life beat up from false guilt. You may want to schedule
a phone counseling session with Dr. Lynne to obtain objective and
professional support, and clarification of what kind of guilt you may be
experiencing. There is hope and there is help. You don't need to suffer
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), is a powerful and
often rapid therapeutic technique, and can be used by a trained EMDR
therapist to help you effectively deal with the emotional pain of guilt. If
you suffer from unresolved guilt, anger, loss or past disturbing memories,
EMDR is extremely effective. EMDR is a breakthrough therapy technique
for dealing with many emotional issues, and information is on this website.
Here's a powerful exercise you can do to begin to break the cycle of false
guilt. Make a list of everything you feel guilt about, starting back in your
childhood. Don't worry about if it's true guilt or false guilt, just write.
When you can't think of anything else to write, go down the list and put a
star by each item you believe is 'true guilt'.
Remember, true guilt has an end by asking for forgiveness. If you need to
make amends for anything you think you have done to hurt another, do it
today. The time is always 'right' to ask for forgiveness. You can do this by
writing a short letter to the person. You don't need to hurry. Take your
time. You might find you need to take a few days or even a few weeks to
complete this exercise.
The items remaining on your list are false guilt. Go down the list and make
a notation of 'where' or 'who' gave you this belief, idea, or opinion.
Challenge its origin, and think about how old you were when you first
believed it. Then, cross it out. It doesn't belong to you and never did.
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is an Appropriate
Making Amends or
|I Can't Feel.
Guilt has Eroded
I Can't Love.
I Can't Cry.
Guilt has Frozen
I Can't Pray.
Guilt has Kept
Me From God.
Who You Are,
Cling to Hope.
GUILT . . .
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Free Yourself From Emotional Bondage
Free Yourself From Emotional Bondage
Lynne Logan Ph.D., M.F.T.
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How Guilty Are You?
|We Must Make
Our Real Selves.
"I Made a Mistake.