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Authentic Guilt vs False Guilt

Authentic Guilt vs False Guilt

Do you ever struggle with beating yourself up? Too many of us do – from the moment we roll out of bed.

I remember one morning before I decided to stop beating myself, lying in bed after hitting the snooze button. I had an ambitious morning workout I planned.

But I wasn’t ready yet. So, still half asleep, I had a conversation in my head that went something like this…

This is the morning I’m supposed to get up early to work out before anyone else gets up. It’s still pitch black outside. I’ll get a head start on my day if I just sit up right now and swing my legs over the…

I take a deep breath and sigh. It’s a sigh of guilt because I know exactly what I am about to do. I pull my hand from under the covers and reach over and feel for my alarm clock. I know I shouldn’t, but I hit snooze again. The negative emotions wash over me like an extra layer of sheets in my otherwise cozy bed.

Just seconds into my day and I am already feeling guilty. But that’s just the beginning. I miss my workout. Guilt.

My mother calls. When I answer, she says, “Oh, I thought you’d be working by now.” She’s right. I thought I would too, but I’m late! Guilt.

I notice the date on my phone. Oh no. It is the day after my high school BFF’s birthday, and I forgot to call her yesterday. Guilt.

Later, while driving, I have a moment at a red light and don’t resist the urge to pick up my phone and check my latest social media post. Guilt.

I get to work and open an e-mail from my son’s teacher. I forgot to sign the field trip form and the trip is today. Guilt.

I see news of a similar business to mine launching something new. Rather than being intrigued, I immediately feel like I am not doing enough in my own business. Guilt.

You get the picture. These feelings of guilt were so automatic that I wasn’t really conscious of them. I just had a continuous feeling of not measuring up and a belief that I could do better if I just got my act together. It was a familiar narrative, a story I often told myself, until I became aware of my thoughts and began to change them.

Guilt isn’t always about feeling indebted to another person. Often it is about feelings of not measuring up to our own expectations, including the expectations we believe God has of us.

Authentic Guilt Is a Spiritual Guide; False Guilt Is a Spiritual Detour

From a spiritual perspective, this false guilt isn’t even “your” guilt. It is a weapon the Enemy uses to steal your joy, condemn the very essence of who you are, and even kill your dreams. If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. The very mission of the Enemy is to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). And that is exactly what the lies of false guilt do. Unlike authentic guilt, false guilt is a feeling, not a fact. It is the condemnation that whispers, “You are not enough. You’re not doing enough. You never get it right. You need to pay.

But even when you have made a mistake or done something wrong, authentic guilt changes nothing until it leads you to act differently. Conviction about your behavior and a sincere decision to change is what God is after. The Enemy knows that if you wallow in guilt, you will waste your precious time. If you believe your guilt makes you unworthy, the Enemy has won. You won’t glean wisdom from your experience or turn the pain into purpose. Instead, you’ll see guilt as proof that you have no purpose.

Not all guilt is good guilt.

Good guilt is the kind led by the Holy Spirit, that convicts you to do the right thing even when you’re tempted to do otherwise. It’s the kind that says, “That was wrong. You need to apologize, make amends, do better next time.” But bad guilt is more a feeling than a fact. It’s not so much that you’ve done something wrong, but that you feel like you have. You feel like you’re not measuring up. You feel like you’re doing something wrong all the time.

When guilt is at the center of your emotions, it steals your confidence and your joy. It causes you to shrink from the fullness of who you are. It makes you vulnerable to guilt trips and manipulation. The good news is that you can change the narrative. You can choose new thoughts that create a truthful and freeing narrative.


In your quiet moments, when these feelings arise, push back on them. Notice what you’re saying to yourself – your narrative – and intentionally choose thoughts that are true and align with God’s expectations and love towards you. Your narrative is the story you tell yourself about the events of your life. It is the stream of thoughts you choose that explains what and how and why your life has unfolded the way it has. Your narrative influences how you feel, and therefore, the decisions you make about what should come next in your story. So if your narrative says you are guilty when you are not, what comes next may be punishment, compensation, or even shame.


Lord, in areas where I am feeling guilty even though I am not, where I never feel like I measure up, renew my mind with thoughts that are aligned with Yours. Free me from the lies and doubts the enemy plants and help me see Your truth and make decisions based on that truth.

Written for Devotionals Daily by Valorie Burton, author of Let Go of the Guilt.

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Your Turn

If your guilt meter is set to “high”, you are not alone! But, what messages are you listening to? And is that guilt authentic or false? Helpful or harmful? Come share your thoughts on guilt that lies and guilt that leads on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily