Guilt: True or False? Can Christian counseling help me get rid of my guilt? After all, guilt is usually viewed as a negative emotion, causing us to feel like failures or feel condemned, or unable to meet what is expected of us. Guilt is not always bad however. It can lead us to repentance, towards righteousness, and toward making needed positive changes in our lives.
So then, how can Christian counseling help me tell the difference between good guilt and bad guilt? Christian counselor June Hunt refers to this as “true guilt” versus “false guilt.” True guilt is based in fact: I was at fault…I did do something to deserve a punishment…I did commit a sin. True guilt is the result of any wrong attitude, thought, or action.
On the other hand, false guilt is based on the feeling that I’ve failed to live up to my own expectations or someone else’s. False guilt involves self-condemnation: either I blame myself (even though there’s no evidence that I committed a wrong) or continue to blame myself even after I’ve apologized and made amends. False guilt causes me to feel accused. False guilt leads to shame, fear and anger. Through Christian counseling, it can be revealed how false guilt is contrary to what Scripture says. (Discuss Romans 8 with your counselor).
To get to the bottom of the guilt, we will need further examination of our “self-talk” which is our internal chatter, the messages we tell ourselves, our thinking patterns. Do you often think to yourself (or say out loud) any of the unreasonable “shoulds”? For example, perhaps you are giving yourself messages such as: You should be smarter; you should be more careful; you should never show your anger; you should be more like your sibling, etc. These statements are often impossible to live up to, judgmental, condemning warning signs that we are being affected by false guilt.
Walk through the following steps with your Christian counselor: 1) Find the source of your guilt: fact or feelings? Examine why you are feeling guilty. 2) List out the facts! Take responsibility for your sin. Discuss with your Christian counselor if any restitution would be appropriate. 3) Ask for forgiveness from God and the offended person if possible. 4) Give up dwelling on the past and become willing to stop the self condemnation. 5) Practice prayer and positive self-talk if the old accusations and condemning thoughts arise. (Process Philippians 4 with your counselor). 6) Practice some more. 7) Review steps 1-6 with your Christian counselor as needed and keep practicing!
Submitted by Beth Allen, LPC Adapted from Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook by June Hunt, 2008