How Guilty Are You?
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 . . .
- Tired of Being Imprisoned by Guilt?
- Healthy Guilt
- Life Cycle of Healthy Guilt
- False Guilt
- False Guilt in Childhood
- Characteristics of False Guilt
- Where Does False Guilt Come From?
- Life Cycle of False Guilt
- Can EMDR Help with Excessive Guilt?
- Free Yourself from Guilt Today!
Tired of Being Imprisoned by Guilt?
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 have 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.
What is Healthy 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.
Life Cycle of Healthy Guilt
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.
- 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.So true guilt makes it’s blaring emotion known until you can deny 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.
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 is an excessive amount of guilt which is out of proportion to the event.
- False guilt lingers . . . oftentimes for years.
- False guilt has no end, interferes with healthy emotions, a child’s development and normal daily living, diminishing the quality of life.
False Guilt in Childhood
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 false guilt:
- Confusion About Right and Wrong
- Distorted Emotions
- Lack of Boundaries
- Confusion About Safety Issues
- Low Self Esteem
- Co-dependency Issues
- Lack of Assertiveness
Characteristics of False Guilt
If you suffer from false guilt, here are a few of it’s characteristics you might experience:
- 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
Where Does False Guilt Come From?
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.
Life Cycle of False Guilt
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. UNLESS You decide you’ve had enough of the pain and make a different choice.
- You can 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.
Can EMDR Help With Excessive Guilt?
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.
Free Yourself From Guilt Today!
Here’s a powerful exercise you can do to begin to break the cycle of false guilt. Make a list of everything you feel guilty 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.