How to Tell The Difference between True and False Guilt!

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True or False GuiltFeeling guilty is something we all have to deal with from time to time. Guilt serves a purpose in society – when it’s reasonable. True guilt is MEANT to make us feel bad, so that we make amends, rebuild our essential relationships and don’t do it again. False guilt serves no such purpose – and only makes us feel terrible…

Yet there seem to be more and more ‘reasons’ for us to feel guilty (I should have recycled that/volunteered at that fund-raiser/stayed late and finished that project/should have gone to that family dinner). Should, should, should. We seem to go through life should’n all over ourselves – and feeling terrible!

And what makes it worse is that all too often we can’t tell the difference between true and false guilt. Instead we get caught up in the unpleasant guilt feelings – and believe them!

TRUE GUILT comes from a lack of internal integrity. True guilt is when we don’t follow our own truth and we do something that we can see is clearly ‘wrong’ (even if we only see this in retrospect). True guilt is reasonable and appropriate. And with true guilt we can face ourselves, make amends and resolve the matter as best we can, then move on. It’s a mature response that helps us learn and be accountable.

FALSE GUILT is a learned response. It’s triggered by something external to us - an outside demand we could not or did not meet. False Guilt is unreasonable (you can’t reason with it), inappropriate (the guilt is applied incorrectly) and unhealthy (we make ourselves feel terrible). Essentially false guilt is about BLAMING OURSELVES. And when we feel this unreasonable or false guilt, making amends does not resolve our guilty feelings. We get stuck in a cycle of self-judgement, suffering pointless and often debilitating emotional pain.

So, How To Tell If It’s TRUE or FALSE GUILT?


  • You feel stuck or trapped (especially if you feel there are no alternatives open to you).
  • You DON’T feel fully responsible or accountable (the situation feels outside of your control).
  • You’re protecting someone else’s feelings.
  • You’ve apologised, made amends and yet you STILL feel guilty.
  • You feel to BLAME. You may even feel the need to be punished.

It’s Probably REAL or TRUE GUILT if:

  • You know exactly why you feel this way. You may not like it, but it’s clear cut.
  • You feel fully responsible and accountable for what happened.
  • The guilt is resolved by facing and/or stopping the behaviour – and taking relevant and appropriate amending action.
  • You can see the entire cycle of actions from beginning to end.
  • The situation leads to learning, self-forgiveness – and ultimately perhaps even higher self-esteem.

REMEMBER: 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 you’re well on your way!

Watch for next week’s article is about HOW to work through guilt!

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This entry was posted in Feelings & Emotions, Inner Critic and Gremlins, New Ways of Thinking, Self-Coaching Tips and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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