As Christian counselors we often hear people talk about guilt as a negative emotion, causing us to feel like failures, to feel condemned, or unable to meet what is expected of us. However, guilt is not always bad. It can lead us to repentance, towards righteousness and towards making needed positive changes in our lives. So how can we tell the difference between good guilt and bad guilt, or “true guilt” versus what June Hunt (Christian counseling radio host) calls “false guilt”? True guilt is based in fact: I was at fault, I did do something to deserve punishment, or 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.
To get to the bottom of the guilt, we will need further examination of our “self-talk,” that is the messages we tell ourselves, our thinking patterns, etc. Do you often think about past mistakes and failures? Do you often think to yourself, or say out loud, any of the unreasonable “shoulds”? (Maybe 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 cousin…). These statements are often impossible to live up to, judgmental, condemning warning signs that we are being affected by false guilt. These lies are unlearned in Christian counseling when held up to the reality of the truth of the Bible.
Take the following steps to deal with guilt effectively:
1. Discuss your guilt with a Christian counselor to 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 and make restitution if appropriate.
3. Ask for forgiveness from God and the person offended 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.
6. Practice some more.
7. Review steps 1-6 and keep practicing!
Adapted from Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook by June Hunt, 2008.
If you would like some personal help please give us a call. Often a little personal time with one of our Christian Counselors can help you get on the right path. Our number is 724-863-7223