In the previous blog I showed how anger, blame and shame are inter-related. Similarly, guilt is related to anger, blame and shame.
There is real guilt, for example when we are the purposeful, direct cause of someone’s injury. Real guilt calls for making amends and seeking forgiveness.
“My God, I didn’t know Jamie would take it so hard when I missed the ball game on his birthday! What an _______ I’ve been! I can’t face the boy! But, it’s really his problem, I can’t help what I had to do. He’s got to buck up! I told my wife she baby’s him too much!”
When we decide that we are to blame or we “feel guilty,” the feeling of “shame” frequently follows and is a major deterrent to making a change. When we feel ashamed, we may want to hide the problem from everyone. That prevents us from being open and direct. We are reluctant to seek help by “confessing,” owning up to our faulty behavior, and asking forgiveness. We may even deny any guilt or any part in the problem, and going further, blame anyone and everyone else. We find it hard to accept responsibility for our own actions and feelings. We find it hard to ask for ideas of how to do things differently.
I recall that even Jesus said, “Only God is good.” We need not be quite so determined to be “the good guy” all the time. We can accept part of the responsibility for the outcome, good and bad. We can confess to God our part. God already knows our strengths and weaknesses, our guilt and our sorrow. We can request and receive forgiveness from God and strength to do differently in the future. The inner assurance of God’s forgiveness helps us to move on with our lives even when forgiveness is not forthcoming from others involved in the situation. When I feel forgiven, I can accept my responsibility.
There is “false guilt,” feelings of guilt when there was actually nothing we could have done differently that would have changed the outcome of the situation.
“I tried every way I could think of to get her to stay on her diet. She ignored everything–doctor’s warnings, nutrition instruction, books I gave her, I tried to ignore her eating habits when I found out I was making it worse–we had a good relationship otherwise. Its like she decided to die as soon as possible. I feel so guilty, there must have been some way to stop her.”
The feelings are real, although the guilt is false. Here too, it helps to realize God’s love for us, even though we are not perfect and do not have power to make everything we touch to be perfect.
We are all imperfect, an other way of saying that we are all sinners, whether we are “the blamer” (blaming others) or the “blamee” (being blamed by others). We are people who “come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are less than we can be as people made in the image of God. We are people with imperfect understanding and imperfect behavior. Thank God that while we were and are still imperfect, God loved us and loves us still. Don’t be afraid of accepting PART of the responsibility for “It.” There is no shame in being honest about our part of responsibility.