Ways of Dealing With Guilt — Before It Consumes You

Rick Kraft

MY wife and I have a little black-and-white, big-eared, pink-tongued Boston Terrier named “Buddy McGee.” From time to time he does something wrong. When he does, he gives himself away, visibly showing his guilty conscience. He lowers his head and his entire body trembles even before we find out his misdeed.

He demonstrates “guilty” every step he takes We generally don’t need to look far to find out what he did that he shouldn’t have. Once learning his wrong act, it is hard to discipline a dog that, out of guilt, is visibly shaking already. Dogs are programmed differently than us humans. This may be a good thing.

As for humans, it is generally hard to know what is going on inside them, especially those we don’t know well. We try to read others by listening to the words they speak and observing the actions they take.  We try to determine what is in their heart. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes we fail miserably. But we know that whatever is in the heart is what drives the person.

There is a saying, “What happens in the closet evidences itself in the marketplace.” I interpret this to mean that what we allow to manifest itself in the secrecy of our hearts will play out publicly in actions we take.

A heart filled with love will see the world differently than a heart filled with anger. A humble heart will result in different behavior than an arrogant one. Our heart controls what we speak. We should protect our heart and what is in our heart will evidence itself through our words and actions.

What happens when a heart is filled with guilt? It can lead to blaming another for something that is not another person’s fault. Guilt can overwhelm a person. It can destroy relationships. It can cause poor decisions in every aspect of one’s life. It can cause events to occur that would otherwise be unexplainable.

We weren’t created with “guilt meters” that are visible privately to ourselves on the palm of our hand or visible to others in the middle of our forehead.

We can avoid guilt or minimize guilt by making good decisions. We can choose to not do wrong acts. We can stay away from places of temptation that we walk too close to. For example, if Adam had not gone near the forbidden apple tree in the Garden of Eden, he would not have eaten an apple from it. What I am saying is that if we stay out of places that cause us to make wrong decisions, we can reduce the likelihood of having to deal with guilt issues.

But guilt is something that possesses us to varying degrees, depending on the steps we have walked on our journey of life. When guilt has a hold of a person’s heart, the person’s entire world is controlled by the guilt. Often, guilt leads to anger. Guilty inner issues can cause one to strike out at others. It is the saying, “hurting people hurt people.” I seek to not be a hurting person, but I interact with many walking this journey in my legal practice.

Recognizing that the person I am dealing with is hurting, I remind myself that a symptom of a hurting heart is often to reach out and seek to hurt others. This is the same with guilt. People who feel guilty typically deal in guilt when they deal with others.

Guilt can also create a debtor relationship. A debtor relationship is a relationship where one person owes another something. It can be evidenced by comments such as “I owe you an apology.” It can cause a person to live in bondage.

Guilt can be handled in many ways. Confession to the one we have wronged or asking for forgiveness are methods of handling guilt that can release us from an indebted relationship.

Until guilt is confessed, it can be very hard to overcome. Confession and true forgiveness free us from the bondage of guilt. Sometimes that is all we can do.

My challenge to you is to not have a heart driven by guilt. Protect your heart, guard it. Make good decisions. Don’t make choices that allow guilt to enter the very core of your existence.

We live in a world of relationships. Our ability to engage in relationships is tied to what is in our hearts. A guilt-driven heart is no good for you or for those you interact with. It could lead to its cousin, “anger,” and this poor combination could play out with great negative consequences both to you and to others.

None of us is perfect. We must all address this issue. If you have guilt inside you, confess it and ask for forgiveness. Move out of the debtor relationship into a healthy one.

Just a thought …

Rick Kraft, a South Pasadena High School graduate, is a syndicated columnist, motivational speaker, published author and attorney. To submit comments, contributions or ideas, e-mail to rkraft@kraftlawfirm.org.