This article is going to cover false guilt, also known as unhealthy guilt. There will be a distinction between true guilt (healthy guilt), false guilt (unhealthy guilt) and shame. The symptoms and fall out of false guilt will also be outlined. Finally, we will cover the million dollar question- how to let go of false guilt.
Guilt is a powerful emotion that is not talked about enough. It’s an emotion that we keep hidden and beneath the surface. The problem with guilt that lingers beneath the surface is- it grows in power. It’s not until we put it in the light that it can be addressed effectively.
Two Types of Guilt
Healthy Guilt (True Guilt)
Healthy guilt, also known as true guilt, is a discomfort we experience over something we’ve done wrong according to Scripture. As a result, it’s a helpful emotion that moves us to seek forgiveness, repent and leads to healing. As Christians, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit convicting us of sin so we can take action. Healthy guilt resolves as we confess, repent and heal. Ultimately, we are moved toward God and freedom.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2
False Guilt (Unhealthy Guilt)
False guilt, also known as unhealthy guilt is a discomfort we experience over something we’ve done wrong according to our own unrealistically high standards. These high standards are usually developed in childhood, possibly to please an adult in our lives. Unhealthy guilt leads to self punishment and beating ourselves up.
False guilt does not move us toward freedom like healthy guilt. Rather, false guilt is more circular or cyclic. We tend to miss the mark of our own unrealistically high expectations, then we feel guilty and begin beating ourselves up. Rinse and repeat until we feel utterly beat down.
I’m going to take a minute to touch on shame. Shame is easily weaved with false guilt. False guilt is tied to a “behavior “and shame is tied to our “identity”. In other words, we quickly go from “I made a mistake“ to “I am a mistake“. Emotions of worthlessness and powerlessness are quite common.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. Revelation 12:10b
False Guilt and Shame
In both false guilt and shame there is much the enemy has to gain. And much we have to lose. If we camp in either of those places (false guilt or shame) we move toward isolation and we withdraw from community. False guilt and shame also prevents us from leaning into our God-given gifts. While the enemy can’t steal the light of Christ in us – he can tempt us to hide it under a basket. It’s time to cut what ties us to false guilt and shame.
Symptoms of False Guilt
Remember, healthy guilt comes from doing something wrong according to Scripture. Healthy guilt moves us to action- confession, repentance, healing and ultimately freedom.
False guilt comes from unrealistically high expectations we place on ourselves. Consequently, we set the bar so high, we will miss the mark. Next, we start thinking self-defeating thoughts. In other words, we beat ourselves up. What’s your script? What do you say to yourself? Are you are pretty harsh, lacking grace and compassion for yourself? Then, we feel the weight of guilt creeping in. Those emotions come from thoughts. What do we do to manage the guilt? We will work harder to meet the unrealistically high standards we have set for ourselves.
It’s exhausting to live under the weight of false guilt.
Consequences of False Guilt
When we continue to live under false guilt – we wear ourselves out and begin to buckle under the weight of feeling false guilt. We start to isolate and withdraw from our people, our church, our ministry. Hidden feels safer. False guilt prevents us from leaning into our God-given gifts. It also prevents us from being authentic. Anxiety, depression and low self-esteem are linked to false guilt as well. Are you ready to let go of false guilt?
Letting Go of False Guilt (Unhealthy Guilt)
1. Identify the source of false guilt. What unrealistic standards are you setting for yourself? What are you believing- your standards or standards God sets for you? (This is called a core belief- check out “Taking Thoughts Captive Online Course” for more on this topic.)
2. Stop the negative self talk. No more beating yourself up when you miss and unrealistically high bar you set for yourself. (You might like “Biblical Affirmations”.)
3. Acknowledge everyone has strengths and weaknesses, including you, (2 Corinthians 12:9) and that’s okay!
4. Practice grace and compassion toward yourself.
5. Connect with others! Don’t withdraw and isolate.
Wrapping up False Guilt (Unhealthy Guilt)
False guilt is not from God. When we allow false guilt to invade our mind we begin to funnel our energy towards survival mode. It’s time to shift gears and move to thriving mode. Let’s cut what ties us to false guilt. We are going to believe a new thing and do a new thing.
Sometimes false guilt can be sticky. If you are having an especially hard time cutting ties to false guilt, seek godly counsel from your church. You can also seek Christian counseling/coaching here.
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