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True or False Guilt

Updated on February 6, 2018

There are generally two kinds of guilt: first, a person actually is to blame for a wrong they have committed and second, a person assumes they are to blame for something they have not done at all. The first one is true guilt and if a person takes responsibility for what they have done, they will feel remorse and seek forgiveness. The second one is not as clear cut and this is the “false” guilt that causes people to become confused and they usually end up feeling the helplessness of shame.

When people live under the cloud of false guilt, there seems to be no way to rectify the situation. In their confusion, they seek for what they must have done wrong in the situation. Not finding anything, the next “logical” conclusion ends up being: “I am all wrong.” If the person is all wrong , there is no hope of forgiveness or restoration unless a person becomes someone else or continuously meets the expectation of others. As those of us who have struggled with false guilt know, there is no hope of doing this perfectly. What is the alternative?

The opposite of carrying false guilt is to never admit to guilt at all. By doing this, there is no need to take any responsibility for our actions. It is the “who cares” attitude—if I’m never wrong , I never have to take responsibility for my actions at all. These people will never admit that others could be right and must have the upper-hand in all situations to confirm their “right-ness.” In truth, they live in just as much fear of being discovered as the one who carries the false guilt.

Neither can separate the false from the true. The first feels helpless and fears becoming unnecessary if they’re not needed by everyone; the second is afraid of becoming unimportant if they are not always right and in control . Both wonder (if they are truly honest with themselves) whether there is a better way. Can I truly be myself? What will happen if I fail or make a mistake?

The Bible says in Romans 3:23 (NIV), “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God .” This is part of the human condition we are born into—we will do things wrong. So, first of all, we need to accept our humanity. Our ability to make mistakes does not make us different from anyone else, it makes us the same. The difference comes in our desire to admit when we’ve done wrong and make amends for what we have done.

In 1 John 1:9 (NIV) it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness .” When we can finally admit those things which we can take responsibility for (true guilt), then we can find freedom through forgiveness. It is at this juncture that we can become truly who we are meant to be. We no longer need to prove to others that we are what we think we should be, we just need to be who we are and allow others to love us as such.

Most of my life I have struggled with false guilt and compensated by being there for everyone—being what I thought they wanted me to be. When this became too great a burden for me, I started to isolate myself as a protection against burnout. My reasoning was that if I didn’t have people in my life, then I wouldn’t have to live up to their expectations. Home alone became my only safe place. Obviously, that was not an acceptable solution and I began to realize the fear of failure was no greater than the pain of loneliness. I gradually began my personal journey toward freedom and God has been helping me every step of the way—and still is!

Do you have the courage to step out of false guilt and embrace freedom? How quickly this happens will depend on how long you have believed the lie and how determined you are to change. Take the risk—it’s worth it. You’ll be surprised at how many people will love and accept you just the way you are. Do you have the courage to take responsibility for true guilt and be freed from it? If you do, a great load will be lifted from your shoulders and you’ll be able to enjoy life as it was meant to be lived. So, release yourself of guilt, whether it be true or false.

© 2010 Flo Belanger


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