In a blaming, shaming culture such as the one we live in, there are two forms of
guilt: appropriate and inappropriate guilt. People continually confuse the two,
with the result that they often take on guilt and blame for things that are not
theirs in the first place.
Appropriate Guilt: taking ownership of our actions. This is where we accept
the deed's ownership: we own it, we are responsible for it - it was our choice:
appropriate guilt is natural, good and normal, because it shows a healthy sense
of responsibility and taking ownership (or “blame”).
There are different reasons why we feel guilty.
We feel guilty (appropriately) when we have done something that violates one of our own ethical or moral
values. As a result, we hold ourselves responsible for something we did or said: accepting ownership and
responsibility for our actions (that is "appropriate" guilt). It shows responsibility and ownership.
- From childhood on we learned beliefs about what is right and what is wrong and integrated those
beliefs into who we are: we accepted them without actually thinking about them. Our families—
parents, grandparents, and siblings—along with school, friends, and other life experiences, all
contributed to this process. Because of that complex history, we may not be aware exactly how we
come to believe a particular act is right or wrong: it’s unconscious – and can be very harmful to us.
We are not responsible for other people's choices!
Understanding and Dealing with Guilt – appropriately - understanding guilt and blame:
- understanding guilt - guilty feelings, and "feeling guilty".
- Exercises to determine how you might go about dealing with guilt (Workshops only).
- Pointers and steps to take to dealing with your guilt (if appropriate). Workshops/Counselling.
Understanding The Source of Guilt
To understand any strong, troublesome emotion of guilt, you need to see clearly three parts of your
- The actual upsetting physical-social situation and event, what you did, and what others did, and
the outcomes or results.
- The thoughts, wishful images, and self-talk you had before, during, and after the event, but
especially just before feeling bad. This includes what you had originally hoped would happen
and how you now wish it had worked out.
- Your emotional reactions about or to the event and the outcomes.
Inappropriate Guilt Generating Thoughts:
Here are the common, fairly obvious inappropriate/irrational ideas that create unwanted emotions:
- Everyone should love and approve of me (if they don't, I feel awful and unlovable).
- I should always be competent, able, successful, and "on top of things" (if I'm not, I'm an
inadequate, incompetent, hopeless failure).
- People who are evil and bad should be punished severely (and I have the right to get very upset
if they aren't stopped and made to "pay the price").
- When things do not go the way I wanted and planned, it is terrible and I am, of course, going
to get very disturbed. I can't stand it!
- External events, such as other people, a screwed-up society, or bad luck, cause most of my
unhappiness. Furthermore, I don't have any control over these external factors, so I can't do
anything about my depression or other misery.
- When the situation is scary or going badly, I should and can't keep from worrying all the time.
- It is easier for me to overlook, or avoid thinking about, tense situations than to face the
problems and take the responsibility for correcting the situation.
- I need someone--often a specific person--to be with and lean on (I can't do everything by
- Things have been this way so long, I can't do anything about these problems now.
- When my close friends and relatives have serious problems it is only right and natural that I get
very upset too.
- I don't like the way I'm feeling but I can't help it. I just have to accept it and go with my
- I know there is an answer to every problem. I should find it (if I don't, it will be awful).
These can, and will, ruin your mental, emotional and spiritual inner being – they will destroy
happiness in life for you. You are NOT responsible for everything that happens.
Healthy Reaction Thoughts – appropriate (see Workshops for exercises to learn the steps):
Employ rational ideas to accept reasonable bad feelings, and to reduce the sources of inappropriate
Dealing with a feeling of guilt responsibly and constructively – Workshop Topics
When you feel guilty (responsible), you can clarify the situation for yourself, and make it more
manageable using the following exercise which consists of posing and answering four questions:
Continue to reject ownership of things you did not do or say.
- 1. What makes me feel guilty - responsible?
- 2. What value do I feel I have violated?
- 3. What am I asking myself to do to fulfill this value?
- 4. What is it I really need to do to fulfill this value?
Guilt Part 2 has helpful steps for dealing with both appropriate and inappropriate guilt.
A Guilt Workshop is also available.
Klaas Tuinman MA
Dawn Cove Abbey
Deerfield, (Yarmouth County) Nova Scotia, Canada, Rev: 2009-2017
GUILT - the paralyzing emotion
Appropriate and Inappropriate Guilt
Guilt means to taking responsibility and ownership of our actions and words.
To take Personal Ownership is being fully accountable for results that matter to you,
and for which you are responsible: you take full responsibility for your actions and
accept accountability for the results you produce.
It is about controlling events rather than being controlled by events. Learning how to
take Personal Ownership requires a transformation in thinking; it involves
responsibility, choices and consequences, assertiveness and self-worth (self esteem) etc.
Wholeness is a necessary part of being fully human, and by nurturing the inner child
with love and listening, as a parent would do, balance of mind, body and spirit can be
created – through taking ownership and control.
|Guilt was never a rational
thing; it distorts all the
faculties of the human
mind, it perverts them,
it leaves a man no longer
in the free use of his reason,
it puts him into confusion.
Yet, some of our sense of guilt comes from being made to feel as if it is we who are solely and choices
of other people (that's inappropriate guilt).
We need to remember that their choices aren’t ours to make.
It isn’t our responsibility to “fix” the consequences of someone else’s choices.
- We are not responsible for the choices they make – so to avoid guilt, don’t accept that
responsibility or ownership
- When we find excuses for their choices, and try to “fix” the consequences for them, we are
engaging in a denial-enabling situation: at worst, we become codependent.
- We all have to learn to accept that we have to live with choices others make – whether we like
those choices, approve of them or whatever.
|People who really want to
will find a way;
those who aren't ready yet,
will find an excuse.
Inappropriate Guilt: taking-on ownership of someone else's actions. This is where we are left feeling,
or are made to feel, by others that we are responsible for something we actually did not do or say. It means
others are trying to shift their blame onto you, and avoiding responsibility and ownership of their actions.
We don’t own inappropriate guilt, nor are we responsible for it. Whatever was said or done was their choice.
It is a form of guilt that is not normal, good or natural: it is extremely common. It leaves you with
Because of that, and because that is so common there are many people who feel guilty most of the time.
They spend much of their time doing things they don't really want to do, just to avoid feeling guilty: except
it never quite works for them. This is because it wasn’t theirs to “fix” in the first place (see Fixer Role).
|Dawn Cove Abbey
Roadside Assistance For Your Journey Through Life
- Dedicated to helping people return (and maintain) sanity and decency to life -
From the eBook: "One! The Journey hOMe", by Klaas Tuinman MA, © 2007-2017
Questions and comments welcomed.