Guilt is a tool that can help us reset our course. Guilt helps us to know when we have done wrong and need to make changes or amends. Guilt helps us to not make the same mistakes repeatedly.
People can carry false guilt. False guilt can occur when your circumstances are good and another person's are bad. The circumstances can be because of choices you made or they made. Sometimes the circumstances are by chance alone. False guilt assigns responsibilities; it assigns labels.
A friend once said she felt guilty because her marriage was going well, while her friend’s marriages fell apart. Clearly this was false guilt because my friend had no control or influence on the outcome of her friend’s marriage. Her false guilt was fed in part by her interpretation, or labeling, of the events. What she was labeling as bad, could in time prove to be the healthiest thing for all people involved.
My friend could assuage or eliminate her false guilt by asking these questions: Have I done something wrong? Am I focusing on what I need to be focusing on right now? What choices am I making in my life? What can I learn from observing this situation that will help me to improve my marriage? Are there unwritten rules in my head that I have created for myself about how things should be; do these rules make sense in this situation?
False guilt can also happen when a person feels guilty or ashamed because of a thought they had. While thoughts can lead to actions, it is important to differentiate between the two. One can ask: Did I have a thought or did I do an action? If it was a thought, one can ask, what did I do to redirect my thoughts? Noticing your ability to turn away can be a powerful beginning in realizing that thoughts are not actions.
Humans make mistakes. Sometimes actions are not what we would choose at a later point in time. Realizing this can help one move beyond guilt. Guilt can serve its purpose when we learn from our mistakes.
When guilt comes because of actions, ask yourself: How did this happen? “How” questions uncover sequences in processes. Understanding what happened can help one learn to interrupt the sequence. One can figure out where to make different choices.
Sometimes guilt can affect a person for years. It is helpful to keep things in perspective. Was the event that caused the guilt a onetime thing, or a repeated offense? What did you learn from your mistake? How does the thing that happened then, inform you now? How do you use that knowledge to help others?
Making a confession may relieve your guilt, but one must be careful that their action of confession does no harm. If confession will harm another person, it must not be done. It is best to seek the help of a professional to determine when and how to confess. It may be more desirable to let things go, than to bring hurt from the past into the present. The choice to confess or not to confess must not be made lightly. One should look closely at their motives. Confession should not be done to bring personal relief, while devastating others. It may be that you need to forgive yourself.