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I've known quite a few people who live their lives consumed by guilt about things that have happened in their pasts.  They make themselves miserable constantly reminding themselves about something that's long since over, and they seem to be unable to enjoy life today because they don't feel they "deserve" to do so.  For some of them, that guilt is constantly reinforced by a person in their lives who constantly reminds them of why they should feel guilty; other take it upon themselves to feel guilty, and they don't allow themselves ever to step out of that guilt and into a more pleasant life.

I've done some rather rude and obnoxious things myself in the course of my lifetime.  I've made quite a few mistakes in judgment, and other people have suffered because of my mistakes.  I've made people feel horrible.  I have to say that I do feel guilty about that, but I don't let the guilt grow so predominant in my life that I focus on it instead of my day-to-day life.  The people at alcoholics anonymous (of which I've never been a part, but I have read a great deal about their programs) have the right idea in having people apologize to whomever they can about whatever they may be carrying in the form of guilt.  Apologies set us free--now the ball is in the other person's court (please pardon the cliché), and that person can do with it what he or she pleases.  I apologize when I can, and when I can't, I apologize mentally and ask for that person's understanding, forcing myself to realize that the situation is out of my control, so there's no use dwelling on it.

But that's guilt for things that we've done and are conscious of.  Much more difficult to deal with is the guilt that comes from negative family situations--the abusive parent for example--that forces a young person to carry guilt into adulthood about things over which he or she has never had any control at all.

This concept was very well illustrated in the film Good Will Hunting.  If you can get past the vulgar language in the film (which did nothing to further the plot or define the characters, unfortunately), you see a film that captures the torture that young people put themselves through over guilt of things past.  How many times does Robin Williams have to tell Will "It's not your fault"?  He has to repeat it over and over because Will is dooming himself to a life of misery because he's not able to deal with the subconscious guilt he's been carrying around for years.  When he finally is able to admit to himself that it isn't his fault, he takes off and starts a new life, one that we hope won't be shaped by guilt.

The Catholic church for years depended on guilt to bring people into the church and to keep them giving.  For guilt produces fear, and fear of God or God's wrath is an effective tool for "bringing people to God," and many religious types still use this type of tool to "keep their flocks in line."  It's pathetic, for instead of teaching God's love, they're preaching God's anger and judgment and punishment.  This use of guilt was just one of several reasons that Martin Luther decided to break away from the Catholic church in an effort to reform Christianity into what it should have been.  Several centuries later, many people still haven't gotten the point--God doesn't want us to feel guilty about our mistakes; He wants us to learn from them, make amends for them, and move on with our lives.  If you hurt someone today and you make amends for it, you're going to be a much more sensitive person tomorrow.  That's the type of person who fits into God's plan, not the guilt-ridden people who are socially inept simply because they aren't allowing themselves to move past something that's happened or that they've done.

I've done plenty for which I could carry around a ton of guilt.  But if I do that, I cannot serve my fellow people at all, for I'll be so caught up in what's happened in the past that I won't be able to focus on the present, which is where they need me to be.  If you're carrying around guilt, make amends.  If you can't apologize to the person, write down an apology and let out all that's in your heart--then burn it or throw it away.  Let your guilt go with it.  Maybe it was your fault, but no loving person would want you to feel guilty for the rest of your life over one incident.  A spiteful or vengeful person may want that, but recognize that person for who he or she is, and don't allow that miserable person's desire to continue to control your life with the puppet strings of guilt.  Move on.  Live in today.  Be a help to those who surround you.



Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.
I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can.

Jane Austen


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To make no mistakes is not in
the power of people, but from
their errors and mistakes the
wise and the good learn
wisdom for the future.

Nothing can produce so great a serenity of life as a mind
free from guilt and kept untainted, not only from actions,
but purposes that are wicked.  By this means the soul will
be not only unpolluted but also undisturbed.  The fountain
will run clear and unsullied.



Many people feel "guilty" about things they shouldn't
feel guilty about, in order to shut out feelings of guilt
about things they should feel guilty about.

Sydney J. Harris


It is not a gain that guilt should be wholly forgotten.
On the contrary, it is loss and perdition.
But it is a gain to win an inner intensity of heart through
a deeper and deeper inner sorrowing over guilt.

Sören Kierkegaard

I am suspicious of guilt in myself and in other people; it is
usually a way of not thinking, or of announcing one's own
fine sensibilities the better to be rid of them fast.

Lillian Hellman


Guilt over what you did.  Guilt about what you didn't do.  A guilty
mind or heart is incredibly destructive.  Guilt damages your self-
worth almost as quickly as it erodes your self-respect.  The guilt
then flows into your relationships, which makes it difficult for you
to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.  When you believe that
you are guilty, you will re-create situations
in which you will be accused.
   Guilty people are defensive.  Quite often they overcompensate
by giving too much and saying too much.  When a person feels
guilty, it is difficult for them to see anything good in themselves,
and so they are compelled to try to do more to prove their
innocence.  Unfortunately, the more they do,
the more guilty they feel.

Iyanla Vanzant
Until Today!


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Guilt is the sum total of:
All the negative feelings we have ever had about ourselves!
Any form of self-hatred, self-rejection, feelings of worthlessness,
sinfulness, inferiority, incompetence, failure, or emptiness.
The feeling that there are things in us that are lacking or missing or incomplete.

Ken Wapnick

When we hold onto the negative in ourselves it comes with endless
guilt.  We hold onto a lifetime of floating visions and regrets about
what we should have done or should have become.  Conscience
recognizes wrong and tries to atone.  But guilt turns into resentment.
Conscience brings us closer to each other; guilt drives us apart.
Create a new feeling.  Every time guilt settles in your stomach,
write "I forgive" on a piece of paper.  Send it up the chimney, tear
it up and flush it, put it in the garbage.  Don't eat it.

Jennifer James


What is guilt?  It is moral self-reproach--I did wrong
when it was possible to have done otherwise.

Nathaniel Branden
Self-Esteem Every Day


Focus on guilt will always breed fear, and focus on innocence will always
breed love.  Any time we project guilt onto someone else, we are fortifying
the experience of guilt within ourselves.  Like blood on Lady MacBeth's
hands, we cannot remove our own guilty feelings
as long as we are judging others.

Marianne Williamson


Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most
undesirable sentiment.  If you have behaved badly, repent,
make what amends you can and address yourself to the task
of behaving better next time. On no account brood over
your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the
best way of getting clean.

Aldous Huxley


Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one's own actions or lack
of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer
guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another
name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication;
it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things
the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.

Audre Lorde


Tereza's mother never stopped reminding her that being a mother meant
sacrificing everything. Her words had the ring of truth, backed as they
were by the experience of a woman who had lost everything because of
her child. Tereza would listen and believe that being a mother was the
highest value in life and that being a mother was a great sacrifice. If a
mother was Sacrifice personified, then a daughter was Guilt,
with no possibility of redress.

Milan Kundera
The Unbearable Lightness of Being


Make friends with guilt.  Guilt is a beautiful emotion that alerts us when
something is wrong so that we may achieve peace with our conscience.
Without conscience there would be no morality.  So we can greet guilt
cordially and with acceptance, just as we do all other emotions.
After we respond to guilt, it has done its job and we can release it.

Glenn R. Schiraldi
10 Simple Solutions for Building Self-Esteem


Shame is closely related to guilt, but there is a key qualitative difference.
No audience is needed for feelings of guilt, no one else need know, for the
guilty person is his own judge. Not so for shame. The humiliation of shame
requires disapproval or ridicule by others. If no one ever learns of a misdeed
there will be no shame, but there still might be guilt. Of course, there may be
both. The distinction between shame and guilt is very important, since these
two emotions may tear a person in opposite directions. The wish to relieve
guilt may motivate a confession, but the wish to avoid
the humiliation of shame may prevent it.

Paul Ekman
Telling Lies


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I was always fraught with guilt, and it's such a waste of an emotion.
It keeps you out of the moment of being where you are.

Kyra Sedgwick


A guilty mind can be eased by nothing but repentance; by which
what was ill done is revoked and morally voided and undone.

Benjamin Whichcote
Moral and Religious Aphorisms


Guilt is oftentimes the strongest witness against itself.

Edward Counsel