Guilt is a phenomenon that is often accompanied by painful emotions and is therefore something that must be confronted in ourselves. Theologian Horace Bushnell wrote “guilt is the very nerve of sorrow.” But guilt is also the minds way of helping us recognize when we have made wrong choices. When we confront our guilty feelings and deal with them effectively, the process of dealing with guilt can be a beneficial aspect of spiritual and psychological growth. This article provides 5 critical steps for dealing with guilt.
1. Don’t spend time in Self Blame
While it is important to acknowledge you have made a bad choice and accepting responsibility is part of that, engaging in continual self blame is self defeating. Keep in mind blaming never helped anyone correct a wrong or overcome a bad habit. Experiencing guilt is not a bad thing; it is the way we know we have violated our personal code of right and wrong. It is refusing to accept and deal with guilt that results in negative and destructive habits.
2. Let others take responsibility for their actions
There is no virtue in carrying the guilt of another person. In fact it is positively destructive. It is important that each of us accept responsibility for our own actions. While it is true that Jesus died for the sins of the world, each person has to acknowledge his/her own guilt to experience pardon.
- Understand the connection between guilt and grace
Grace is to give a second chance to one who does not deserve it. The sacred text teaches divine forgiveness is based on grace. It is granted even when it is not deserved. Therefore feeling guilty and feeling as though I don’t deserve to be forgiven is the very reason it is granted. There is then no excuse for holding on to my guilt as a badge of disgrace. In forgiveness disgrace is replaced with grace.
- Practice self forgiveness
Forgiveness is the irreplaceable antidote for guilt. One question I often ask people who have a hard time forgiving themselves is this, “if God is willing to extend grace and forgive you even when you don’t deserve it, why are so arrogant that you cannot forgive yourself?” Some react with shock and even anger that I would refer to them as arrogant. The truth is that refusal to forgive self stems from setting unrealistic expectations of ourselves which sets us up for defeat. It therefore stems from pride which is the root of arrogance. Even if you think or believe you do not deserve forgiveness, go ahead and give to yourself anyhow. It is your key to freedom.
- Release the need to be wrong
One of the most powerful though often unconscious need underlying guilt is the need to be wrong so that I can continue doing wrong while feeling bad about it. If I can hold on to my history of wrong choices, I can point to them as evidence of my inability to take the necessary actions to deal with myself. That in turn gives me permission to continue my self destructive course. Release the need and live free of guilt.
If these steps are diligently implemented when handling guilt, there is a greater likelihood that we will not only be dealing with a source of spiritual and emotional pain, but also become better persons in the process.