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Good GuiltóBad guilt

"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death."1

Guilt, false guilt, and shame can all look alike but they're not. For instance true guilt says you have done something wrong or bad, while shame says you are bad; that is, you are a bad person.

With real guilt, if you know you've done something wrong, and confess it and make restitution, the feeling of guilt goes away. If it doesn't, it may be false guilt or shame you are struggling with.

You can confess false guilt forever, but that will never resolve it because it isn't guilt. It is a conditioned response learned mostly in earlier years.

It can come from parents, siblings, and even from some rigid churches, sad to say.

Some of it, at least, works like this: "If you do what I want you to do, behave the way I want you to behave, conform to what I want, and even believe what I want you to believe, I will give you my love and approval. If you don't do these things, I will withhold my love and approval and make you feel guilty. Or if you do things I don't like, I will make you feel ashamed with my 'shame on you' statements and attitude." Or if a child was sexually violated or abused he or she may feel shame-based.

False guilt and shame are destructive ways of controlling other people. Both are psychologically damaging. To overcome these, a recovery program or counseling is often needed.

As I understand it, guilt in the Bible is a legalónot a feelingóentity. If we have sinned and done wrong, we are guilty regardless of what we feel. Its purpose is not to make us feel that we are bad persons or to shame us, but to inform us that we have done wrong and that there are always consequences. The feeling response we ought to feel when we have done wrong is Godly sorrow. This is to motivate us to come to Jesus Christ for his salvation and forgiveness, wherever possible to put right the wrongs we have done, and to genuinely repent of (turn away from) sinful actions.

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, help me never to use false guilt or shame to control anyone. Also, help me to resolve any feelings of false guilt and shame that I may have and therein experience your unconditional love, forgiveness, and affirmation at the very core of my being. If there is any real guilt in my life, help me to see it, to seek your forgiveness for it, and wherever possible put right any wrongs that I have done. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. 2 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV).


All articles on this website are written by
Richard (Dick) Innes unless otherwise stated.