Unearned Guilt

People who would never think of trying to drive a car with the brakes on often do something very similar to themselves.

A wise and funny woman once said, “Show me a person without guilt, and I’ll show you a person without a mother!” Now, she herself was a mother and guilt, when it’s appropriate, is a useful function of a healthy conscience.

The point she was making through humor is that all of us suffer from at least a touch of guilt and feelings of unworthiness. When these feelings grow large enough to take over, it’s like trying to drive a car with the brakes on. You may go forward in fits and starts, but you won’t go very far.

Guilt and unworthiness are things we were taught to feel as children by well-intentioned, but misguided adults who probably didn’t realize the damage they were doing. By the time we became adults, these feelings were so ingrained that they became automatic responses – part of our self-image.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can take yourself off automatic and bring your consciousness to bear on these feelings. You can learn how to refuse to accept unearned guilt and forgive the people who unwisely taught you to feel unworthy. Chances are, they too were taught that way. But you can break that cycle.

A commitment to get rid of unnecessary guilt is a great place to start. Seek out resources – counselors, teachers, friends, classes, books, online video resources – that can help you feel the peace and personal power that is your birthright. Appropriate guilt is one thing, but unearned guilt is a whole other ballgame – and one we don’t need to play.