Why Bother Letting Go Of False Guilt?

Why Bother Letting Go of False Guilt?

Among my variety of friends, I have noticed how some of them carry more false guilt than others. My observational data shows how most of those who are first born children or older children in the family are the ones who feel the most obligated. Those farther down the ladder in birth order feel it less, if at all. Sometimes, I get to be a trusted listener when a friend unpacks some of their deep seated beliefs and when they do, they begin to realize how false guilt is actually futile thinking. 

Letting Themselves off the Hook

A relative of mine once said that guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. But I would clarify the statement to say that false guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. True guilt drives us toward change. When I unleash my anger and offend someone with my words, I am guilty of wrongdoing. When I feel remorse for hurting someone, I am motivated to repair the damage. Somehow, I will ask the one I offended to forgive me and hopefully they will. True guilt drives us to do right after doing wrong. True guilt does not linger. It does not continue to accuse, unlike false guilt.

False guilt pushes us toward trying to do the impossible. It talks us into doing a particular task, favor, chore, or job in order to keep the peace or make someone else happy. Other times, we are driven by false guilt into “shoulding” on ourselves. We tell ourselves we “should” do this task, favor, chore or job because we are the oldest, because Mother would want me to, or because no one else will. 

One thing is true about false guilt: it never takes a rest. Though making another person happy is impossible, false guilt tells us to keep on trying. Though we may want to go against the grain of our birth order and try not be so obsessive about feeling responsible for everything, false guilt warns us of the possible consequences.  We can’t shun our duty because the world may come to an end.  Even if Mother is long gone and in the grave, false guilt can still use the sound of her voice in our head, warning us of the things we should and should not do. Yes, false guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. Just thinking about letting it go can make us feel guilty. But setting ourselves free from it is similar to disassociating ourselves from a tyrannical taskmaster. 

Why bother letting go of false guilt? False guilt is worth letting go of when we ask ourselves this question, “Who wants futile thinking to be in charge of their lives?” Not me!

Why Bother Noticing Guilt?

Why Bother Noticing Guilt?

I did not always know the difference between true and false guilt. However, years ago, when a professional counselor pointed out the distinct differences between the two, her pointedness stuck with me. Ever since then, I can recognize the disguises that counterfeit guilt wears and as a result, step away from it. 

False Guilt

False guilt shows up in many different ways. Any adult is capable of offering us counterfeit remorse. It may come from church leaders, employers, parents, siblings, or coworkers. Even the people who have good intentions for us,  can give us erroneous ideas of how we ought to feel bad about doing or not doing something. Other times the fear of disappointing someone forces us to say yes, when we really want to say no. Whether the fraudulent guilt originates from someone outside of us or from somewhere inside of us, the results are the same. When imitation guilt is motivating our actions, we feel doomed. 

However, real guilt is the result of doing something wrong. True guilt can actually lighten our load. Taking action based on true guilt does not result in our damnation. Instead, it aligns us once again with doing what we know to be the right thing to do. When I speed, I know I am doing wrong. When I get caught, the ticket the officer hands me is warranted. I broke the law. When a law is broken, there is a clear and unmistakable path back to restitution. Paying my fine clears away any feelings of remorse I get from my wrongdoing. The stiff fine also deters me from wanting to speed again, at least for a good long while. 

False guilt, on the other hand, does not offer us any restitution. There is no way to make amends. Fabricated guilt is never satisfied. Its appetite is endless. Dishonest guilt places infinite hoops that we must constantly hop through. Just when we think we have hopped through the last hoop, one more is set in its place. 

When I hear people say, “I feel so guilty about not…” I ask them, “Did you actually do something wrong?” It is my way of pointing out to them what was once called to my attention. There is a distinction between real and false guilt. Knowing the difference lightens one’s load. 

Why bother noticing guilt? It is worth noticing real guilt because it leads us back to living our lives according to our code of ethics. False guilt takes us down a never ending road called Damnation.