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Guilt is the uncomfortable or painful feeling that results from actions that violates or breaks a personal moral standard or value. Like most feelings, guilt can be a useful emotion to help guide us in our relationship with ourselves and with others. Guilt through our conscience informs us that we did something wrong, and that something usually needs to be dealt with appropriately. When listened to and acted upon guilt can be a good thing, however, some guilt is healthy and some are unhealthy.
One type of unhealthy guilt is false guilt. It is detrimental to our serenity, our peace of mind and our functioning. It can affect our mental, emotional, spiritual growth and well being. This false guilt is not a function of our conscience but instead is typically the result of a person attempting to please others whether they really want to or not. Individuals from troubled or distressed environments often have a mixture of healthy and unhealthy guilt.
We sometimes feel awful when we say no to someone’s request that can translate into false guilt. When we say yes to a request or demand just to please someone, then we get upset with ourselves because we did not say no like we wanted to, we become controlled by others. The remorse we feel is an unhealthy type of guilt. Unhealthy guilt when not dealt with lingers on, occasionally becoming psychologically and emotionally disabling. Unhealthy guilt can come from numerous situations and people.
Healthy guilt on the other hand is authentic guilt. It is the result of perceived or acknowledged moral failure. Authentic guilt results from a moral failure because we usually have wronged someone. When authentic guilt is ignored it becomes damaging and eventually destructive. We can use this kind of guilt to live in society, to identify and resolve our conflicts or difficulties, to correct our moral mistakes or to improve our relationships.
Some suggested steps to remove guilt:
Guilt can be relieved considerably by recognizing its presence and by then working through it. This means that we experience it and perhaps discuss it with a trusted friend or counselor. The simplest resolution we may need is to confess our moral failure to God and those we hurt in that order. Then ask for forgiveness. Secondly, repentance is in order, in other words, commit to abstaining from the hurtful behavior. Do something positive instead of negative and hurtful. If the guilt you feel seems more complex or persistence you may need the assistance of a small therapy group or individual counseling for a short while.