Guilty or Not-Guilty

Guilt is a thief. It will rob you of the present, haunt your past and taint your future, if you let it. Guilty feelings can become shackles in our lives. 


“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Ken’s mom said. “Me, your poorly momma, in here cleaning this kitchen all by myself. One day you’ll understand just how sickly I am. I’ll be gone and you’ll feel bad that you didn’t help me. Mark my word, you’ll regret the way you treated me. But you go ahead, play your game and I’ll work myself into the grave.”

Ten-year-old Ken put his game down and went into the kitchen, now feeling horrible that one day his mom would die and he’d be alone, remembering that he didn’t take out the trash. Sounds dramatic on her part doesn’t it? But I’ve heard it done. Maybe you have, too.


Guilt is effective at getting people to conform, getting them to follow the rules or follow the crowd or please us. It’s so ingrained in us from the time we’re kids like Ken. It would have been a lot kinder of his mother to say, “Ken, get in here and take the trash out. The sooner you do your chores, the sooner you can finish your game.” I’ve heard teachers guilt students into compliance. Eek, I’ve even been guilty of guilting myself. But I know better now.

I’ve seen parents guilt kids into compliance. I’ve known spouses to guilt partners into compliance. I once had a friend who tried to guilt me into things. I’ve had relatives guilt me into doing things that I didn’t really want to do, things that benefited them but caused me stress. I’ve even been guilted into wearing clothes I didn’t really like, or keeping gifts I didn’t really want.


Guilt is the immobilization that comes from reliving a feeling of inadequacy, maybe put there before we can even remember. It is rooted in our perceived failures of the past, in the belief that we are “bad” people if we don’t do certain things.

Every time I’ve ever done anything out of guilt, it brought me little happiness or blessings in the long run, but every time I’ve done something because I joyfully wanted to, I’ve been blessed. I think that if we preform an act out of guilt, we get no sense of blessing or pleasure from it, only a sense of duty, obligation and eventually, resentment.

So guilt is basically rooted in the past, remembered or forgotten. It doesn’t matter. It’s like it’s on a cellur level or something. It isn’t rooted in the future. You can’t be guilty over something you haven’t even done yet! Instead of feeling bad about out failures and telling ourselves that we are stupid or evil or jerks, maybe we can be thankful that we now know to do things a different way.


We all make mistakes. Beating ourselves up over them won’t take them away. We can’t go back and undo them. We can’t take words we spoke back, or reverse deeds we’ve done but we can change our actions, our motives, our words in the present.



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