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Does Feeling Guilty Mean You are Guilty?

written by Stephanie Padilla July 17, 2016

The short answer is ‘No’.

It is a common belief that the feeling of guilt is an indicator of wrong-doing. We often think that if someone is feeling guilty, they must have done something wrong. Why else would they feel guilty?

However, we also see that young children feel guilt about situations that they have no control over. They have done nothing wrong, but feel responsible for events around them. They look for answers as to why something ‘bad’ is happening and blame themselves. Why does this happen? Why do we feel guilty when we have done nothing wrong?

The reason for this is that guilt is not there to punish us for what we have actually done wrong. Guilt is the mind’s attempt to control ourselves and our world. The reason the child feels guilt over the ‘bad’ thing happening, is really the mind’s attempt to control ‘bad’ things from happening.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s take a look at four year old Charlie whose parents are getting a divorce. Charlie is told that his parents are splitting up and will no longer be living together. Charlie realizes that his life is about to change and he is upset about it. Here is how Charlie will form a guilt belief:

Step 1: This ‘bad’ event should not be happening. Charlie’s mind argues with what is happening. He does not like the idea of both his parents not living with him and his mind rejects it.

Step 2: Why did this ‘bad’ event happen to me? Since the divorce should not be happening, there must be some cause that when fixed will prevent other ‘bad’ things from happening. All Charlie needs to do is figure out the cause and fix it.

Step 3: I must have done something ‘bad’ to have caused this. Charlie thinks back on recent events to find the cause. Charlie remembers that in the last couple of days he didn’t eat all his vegetables when his mother wanted him to and he argued with his father about going to bed. Charlie reasons that he hasn’t been doing what his parents expect of him. Charlie thinks – ’that must be why my parents are divorcing’.

Step 4: I will be ‘good’ so nothing else ‘bad’ will happen. Charlie now believes that he has to  do what others expect of him or more bad things will happen. Charlie has a plan to control his world. He will be ‘good’. He will do what people want him to do and then he will be safe from ‘bad’ things happening.

At this point the guilt belief will go subconscious. Charlie will forget that he ever thought this. This belief will operate below the surface, buried deep in his mind. Charlie will grow up working very hard to meet the expectations of others in his life. And he will feel guilty whenever he fails. And even when he succeeds he will feel that he has just narrowly escaped something ‘bad’ happening, but he won’t really know what that is. It will just be a feeling he has.

Charlie’s guilt was not the result of Charlie being responsible for his parents divorce or Charlie not eating his vegetables. Charlie’s guilt was the result of Charlie’s mind looking for a way to control what was happening in his world. The sense of control is just an illusion and he never really had it to begin with.

Charlie might spend the rest of his life working this subconscious plan to control the world by meeting others expectations. As a result, he will be plagued with feelings of guilt and fear. Or Charlie could relinquish this guilt belief from his subconscious mind and be free.

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