The Futility of False Guilt

By Anthony Gold

Growing up, my family had a Siamese cat that lived with us for years. The cat died while I was away at college. I discovered it one weekend when I was visiting home. The cat had died in the closet of my bedroom. I don’t know whether the cat chose to crawl into my closet when he knew he was going to die, or whether he was trapped in there and unable to escape.

I’ll never know the answer to that question. When I found the cat, I didn’t remember whether the closet door had been ajar – which it usually was – or whether it was closed. Regardless, besides a feeling of deep sadness, I also felt incredible guilt.

Guilt is the feeling we experience when our behavior is not in line with our beliefs. Freud postulated that guilt is struggle between the ego and our conscience – what he referred to as the super-ego. Guilt is a very powerful emotion – and it’s also incredibly toxic.

Especially unconscious guilt.

We are all familiar with guilty feelings regarding situations we wish we had handled differently. But unconscious guilt is another beast on its own. In fact, Freud considered unconscious guilt “the most powerful of all obstacles”.

In such a state, we are unaware (not conscious) of the guilt, yet we experience its classic repercussions throughout our daily life: self-doubt, shame, repression and projection.

Many religions reinforce some aspect of unconscious guilt through the framework of original sin. Mankind is guilty, requiring repentance or some sort of savior for absolution. Until then, we are damned.

The truth is we did nothing wrong. We have unconsciously bought into a belief system that is not true. And we unwittingly suffer the consequences on a daily basis. Unconscious guilt could actually be labeled as false guilt. The guilt I carry with me, but is not justified.

In fact, guilt is never warranted, conscious or unconscious. Guilt is a choice in the mind to be blameworthy. I feel ashamed and I deserve to be condemned. We then either beat ourselves up, and/or project the awful contents of guilt onto others.

A far more helpful and empowering approach is to recognize we made a faulty choice for guilt – one that did not lead to peace – and now we can make a different one. In the lovely prose of A Course in Miracles:

And what was martyred to his guilt becomes the perfect witness to his innocence. (T-27.I.3)

When we realize that guilt is a choice, not a consequence, we can take the next step of exploring why we choose it. From there, the ability to make a different choice becomes much simpler, and far more liberating. Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll learn how. I look forward to seeing you then.

One thought on “The Futility of False Guilt

  1. I’ve enjoyed your meetings and look forward to tonight’s experiences.

    Thank you very much.

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