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 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.