Guilty as Charged?

Womanj0414035Part of my ‘journey’ was (and still is) about setting fewer ‘rules’ and being more spontaneous. So, this morning I was reading about guilt – and found it so helpful that I decided to spontaneously share my learnings about guilt with you right away!

I don’t know about you, but one of my struggles with understanding guilt has always been that even though it feels ‘bad’ I can see there’s a NEED for guilt in the human species. And yet guilt seems so unnecessarily prevalent in our society – show me a mother who doesn’t feel (often crippling) guilt…

So, there are apparently two types of guilt; 1) REASONABLE GUILT and 2) UNREASONABLE GUILT

REASONABLE GUILT comes from a lack of internal integrity – we stepped away from our own truth and did something clearly ‘wrong’ in our own mind. When we feel reasonable or appropriate guilt we return to balance through facing it and making amends. Reasonable guilt leads us to confront ourselves, resolve the matter as best we can and move on. It’s a mature response that leads us to our own learning and accountability.

UNREASONABLE GUILT however is a learned response – it is triggered by something external to us – an outside demand we could not or did not meet. Unreasonable or neurotic guilt is about BLAME and originates from fear. When we feel unreasonable guilt, making amends does not resolve our guilty feelings, we self-judge and end up going round in circles, suffering unproductive pain.

So, WHY does unreasonable guilt hang around? Because we’re avoiding something. Perhaps we’re avoiding losing someone’s approval or love or we’re avoiding feeling angry at someone or perhaps we put our needs above someone else’s. And then there’s the long shot – perhaps there’ s something big we don’t want to face (like our partner no longer loves us), so we find ways to blame ourselves for their behaviour and feel guilty about that rather than face the truth. OK, so the last one is pretty deep, but it does happen.

So, how do you know it’s UNREASONABLE GUILT? Well, if  you feel ANY of these:

  • You feel limited – like there is only one course of action
  • You feel stuck or trapped
  • You don’t feel fully responsible or accountable
  • You’re protecting someone else’s feelings
  • You’ve apologised, made amends and yet you STILL feel guilty
  • You feel to BLAME and on some level, perhaps you feel the need to be punished


  • You know exactly why you feel this way – it’s clear cut
  • You feel responsible and accountable
  • It’s resolved by stopping the behaviour, facing it and taking relevant and appropriate amending action
  • We acknowledge and affirm our entire cycle of actions from beginning to end – leading to learning, self-forgiveness and ultimately higher self-esteem.

So, what do you do when you’re feeling UNREASONABLE GUILT?

  1. ALLOW the guilt, stop fighting it!
  2. NOTICE what the guilt is covering up. What are you avoiding facing?
    Journal or write about it if it helps.
  3. Acknowledge and FACE WHATEVER is there
    This takes courage but is SO worth it!
  4. ACCEPT the situation AS IT IS
    Forgive and have compassion for yourself and anyone involved…

When it comes to UNREASONABLE guilt ONLY (because we NEED reasonable guilt), use this quote to help you:

“Make choices WITH guilt, not because of it”  David Richo

All too often we think because we FEEL guilty – it must be true, we are a bad person. But guilt is JUST A THOUGHT – and not reality. If you can separate these two – and face your thoughts – you are well on your way!

Let me know how you get on – as always we LOVE to hear what you are thinking
just comment and leave a reply below!

3 comments to Guilty as Charged?

  • Hi Shelley,

    I think APPROPRIATE guilt is an (essential) part of human nature. And involves working through the feelings, taking action as necessary.

    Whereas I think NEUROTIC guilt (where we obsess and beat ourselves up – even when we’ve done our best/made amends) is part of human NURTURE (or a lack of it!).

    Personally I love your spontaneity. Maybe some people don’t – and that’s about them. Because something else comes up here – you worrying that you’ve upset someone. And feeling guilty about that.

    And that’s a WHOLE new ball game… Because you KNOW each person chooses how to respond to something. I bet you could have said the same thing to someone else who would NOT have got upset. So you are feeling guilty for the way someone else feels. THAT’s neurotic guilt at work. The last bullet about neurotic guilt “You feel to BLAME and on some level, perhaps you feel the need to be punished”

    So, if where necessary you already “say I’m sorry, acknowledge the wrong and try to make amends” great! You need to train yourself to recognize the neurotic guilt for what it is and LET IT GO!

    And then maybe there are some real mistakes in there you’re not acknowledging… And that’s up to you to deal with…

  • Shelley

    I found your comment about being more spontaneous interesting. I’ve been working (solidly for many years) on how NOT to be so spontaneous. It’s a characteristic that can be difficult to control. And the guilt associated with spontaneity can be a bit difficult (Oh darn, why did I say/do that?) Perhaps that goes away with confidence – and spontaneity coupled with Appropriate Guilt (??)

    And isn’t Neurotic Guilt just a part of human nature? It would be nice to compartmentalize my guilt into the appropriate box but I know that I suffer from neurotic guilt and while I analyze the reasons, it does come around (for me) to being ‘not perfect’ and acknowledging the feelings I have about situations I find myself in (oh, there’s the spontaneity part again ;o) )

    When do you stop feeling guilty over something you have done or a decision you have made. Usually I think it to death. I analyze and rationalize and by then, it just might be too late. Time to move on ;o)

    And I don’t know a parent out there who doesn’t wonder where ‘they’ went ‘wrong’. It doesn’t have to be a major thing – it’s more an acknowledgement that your children will do what they do. All YOU can do in their formative years in set a good example and abide by appropriate societal rules, passing on that knowledge in the best manner possible to your offspring. After that, they have to learn how themselves……..but all the same, you just want them to learn from your lessons 🙂

    Finally, I think one of best and hardest lessons I ever learned was how to deal with my own mistakes. And where I affect others, I say I’m sorry, I acknowledge the wrong I have done and I try to make amends.

    It could be the mistakes I don’t want to acknowledge that is the real problem ;o)

    • You definitely don’t have any resoan to feel guilty. Many people who work crazy hours do so voluntarily and it should not be a requirement. I’m glad you do leave when you’re done for the day…don’t let others peer pressure you into it. Plus, if you start working late where you are and getting more done, they’ll start expecting that, and then you’re in a real pickle when you want to leave at a normal hour.

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