The cooler in the store beckoned me ... I looked longingly. I had not had one in a very long time. Remembering my girlhood and teen years, I longed for a cool, long drink; but I really shouldn't.
My hand touched the door and I hesitated. My conscious was screaming at this point. Nevertheless, I reached in and pulled it out ... a Coke. Oh, I try to abstain from soda; but I had been struggling with a migraine, I reasoned. I hadn't eaten much for a few days, I comforted myself. The recent 5-pound weight loss cautioned me in the back of my mind: "through the lips and on the hips," it taunted.
Yet, I did it. I purchased it, and I walked back into my office, and placed my Coke beside my piece of Dove chocolate and smiled. I grabbed a pen from the pen cup and wrote down my note. I then placed the pen alongside my Coke.
I had never seen this pen, it occurred to me. Shocked, I glanced at the HUGE words on the pen and they jumped out at me as if to slap me in the face: "CUT BACK ON THE SODA." I couldn't believe my eyes. Was it a sign? Were my hips warning me? I turned the pen and there was a "reason" for cutting back in a small bubble that read: "causes weight gain." When I clicked the pen, another warning: "Causes tooth decay;" click, "linked to diabetes;" Click again, "has no nutrients." Flabbergasted, I sat there. Nevertheless, I opened my forbidden fruit and tasted of its goodness. I popped my Dove chocolate into my mouth and took another swig. Smiling, I walked around asking who would claim this crazy fortune-telling pen. No one did, but they got a good laugh, and I couldn't even give the stupid thing away.
I had been mentally going over an article on false guilt and true guilt when the above took place, and thought it very fitting to share. In case you are wondering, it's all true. And, I think it illustrates a truth that there is false guilt out there, and most people fall prey to it from time to time. Plus, there are some people who live in the land of guilt.
Another accurate illustration for false guilt comes from my own mom. My mom is a gem, an angel and a godly woman. She is well loved by our family, but mom has a problem.
Let me illustrate: when I was 1 year old, she was visiting my dad's parents with me. They were simple and wonderful folks, and lived on a farm. They had chickens, so eggs were in abundance. However, there were not a lot of other things a 1 year old could eat. So, that week mom fed me eggs for breakfast, lunch and supper. Needless to say, by the end of that week, I was clamping my mouth shut, proclaiming: "ain't goin' happen again today."
From that point 46 years ago, I have never again eaten an egg. I am horrified of them. When I see an egg, I stop, drop and roll. OK, that's exaggerating a bit, but I cannot even stand the thought of an egg.
Back to mom. To this day, if she's staying with us, and I'm fixing eggs for the boys, I'll ask her, "Do you want an egg?" A troubled expression begins on her face, and she tears up. "It's my fault you don't eat eggs. Oh, how I hate that I did that to you." No joke. I laugh out loud each and every time, and proclaim, "Mom, please build a bridge and get over it. Please, that was 46 years ago, let's please move on."
If I were cruel, I'd say, "just think of the nutritional benefits I am missing out on ... all the omega 3 and protein. I would never do that because mom suffers from what I've deemed as IGC: Irrational Guilt Complex. The problem is that it is a cycle. It seems it may even be genetic, tongue in cheek here. I am Kim, and I too have that problem. It seems my daughter also may have it.
Seriously, guilt can overwhelm and destroy our joy, happiness, and the here and now. Just as my outlandish, true stories illustrate: there is definitely false guilt. There are those of us -?and maybe you are one of us - who blame ourselves for everything from acid rain and global warming to the smallest thing going on in our lives now to the largest problems in the lives of others. Now, if you are not plagued with IGC, this article is the craziest thing you've ever read. I admire you guilt- free folks, and wish to be like you when I grow up. True and good guilt comes from above, but the difference in true guilt is that true guilt comes with hope. It comes with the hope of change and the ability to do so, by the help of God. It is simply not true guilt when it stifles your life, overwhelms your spirit and presses you down. Good guilt gets you back on your feet, dusts you off, and says, "Let's ride."
God is not the God of overmuch guilt and sorrow as it can and will stifle your life. Here is some advice for overcoming shame and guilt from Livestrong.com I believe will be helpful for all of us:
Irrational thinking involved in shame and guilt feelings:
- I was responsible for the bad things that happened to me in my childhood.
- How can I face others with what happened to me?
- I am an awful person for that to have happened to me.
- I must have asked for what I got in the past.
- I am a bad person for what happened to me in the past.
- I can never tell others what happened to me in my past.
- I do not deserve to be happy.
- I am responsible for my family's (spouse's) happiness.
- There is only one "right'' way to do things.
- It's bad to feel hurt and pain.
- My children should never suffer in their childhood like I did in mine.
- My kids should have more material things than I did.
- It is my fault if others in my life are not happy.
- If my children fail in any way, it is my responsibility.
- It is wrong to be concerned only about myself.
- People are constantly judging me, and their judgment is important to me.
- It is important to save face with others.
- It is wrong to accept the negative aspects of my life without believing that I am responsible for them myself.
- I am responsible if either positive or negative events happen to the members of my family.
- I must not enjoy myself during a time when others expect me to be in mourning, grief or loss.
- I must never let down my guard; something I'm doing could be evil or wrong.
- I must always be responsible, conscientious and giving to others.
- How others perceive me is important as to how I perceive myself.
- No matter what I do, I am always wrong.
- I should never feel shame and guilt.
- If you feel shame and guilt, then you must be or have been wrong.
Suggested steps to overcome guilt.
Step 1: You can recognize the role guilt is playing in your life by choosing a current problem then answering the following simple questions:
a. What problem is currently troubling me?
b. Who is responsible for the problem?
c. Whose problem is it, really?
d. What did I do to make this problem worse for myself?
e. How much guilt do I feel about this particular problem?
f. How much does the guilt I experience exaggerate or exacerbate my problem?
g. If I felt no more guilt what would my problem look like then?
If the answer to question "g" is that your problem can be solved by reducing guilt, go to Step 2.
Step 2: Redefine your problem with the absence of guilt as an issue.
In answering the questions in Step 1, you recognized that guilt was preventing resolution of the problem. To redefine your problem, answer the following questions:
1. How insurmountable is the problem?
2. Is this problem an interpersonal or intrapersonal problem?
3. If it is interpersonal: Can I help the other person and myself to set aside guilt and resolve this problem?
4. If it is intrapersonal: Can I set aside guilt or the fear of it and resolve this problem?
5. Does this problem have more than one solution? Can others and myself experience satisfaction, comfort and resolution with a minimum of debilitating guilt?
6. Whose problem is it, really?
7. Is it my problem or another(s)?
8. Am I taking on another's responsibility?
9. Am I trying to keep another from experiencing pain, hardship or discomfort?
Step 3: If the problem is really someone else's, give the problem back to the person(s) to solve and to deal with. If the problem is yours, go to Step 4.
Step 4: You must confront the real or imagined guilt or fear of guilt preventing you from either handing the problem back to the person(s) whose problem it really is (Step 3) or from handling the problem on your own. Consider the following:
a. What fears are blocking me at this moment from taking the steps I need to resolve this problem?
b. What are the irrational beliefs behind these fears?
c. Refute the irrational beliefs using the steps given in "Handling Irrational Beliefs."'
d. Initiate a program of self-affirmation as presented in "Self-Affirmations."
e. Use an imagery scenario with "guilt" as an object you packaged in a nice box. It is brought to a mountain top and thrown off a cliff for good.
f. Affirm for yourself that:
- You deserve to solve this problem.
- You deserve to be good to yourself.
- You deserve to have others be good to you, too.
We were meant to live victorious and happy lives. We cannot do that if we are living in a guilt-ridden state. Christ came so that we might have life and we might have it more abundantly.
(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a homeschool mom and a counselor and chaplain at Cornerstone Christian Counseling. To contact her, call 304-637-7018 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)