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False Guilt: The Origin

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  • August 11, 2003 /
  • by Stonebriar Counseling Associates /
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The way we recognize our guilt is through a conscience. We might define our conscience as that immaterial part of our creation that sits in moral judgment of all our actions and thoughts. Every one of us has a conscience that tells us whether what we are doing or thinking is right or wrong. Some may say that there are some people who do not possess a conscience, but I contend that each person has a conscience. In Romans 2:15, it states that the Gentiles often times did the things contained in the Law of Moses that were required of Israel. Since the Law of Moses was not given to the Gentiles, there had to be some other motivating factor that caused them to do what was right. Paul states that their conscience bore them witness. I believe we can safely conclude that part of our inherent creation is the possession of a conscience.Additionally, our consciences are shaped by knowledge. In 1 Corinthians 8:10-11, Paul deals with the conscience of a person who sees another Christian in a pagan temple for the purpose of purchasing meat. The first does not believe the second should be there because he has been told or concluded that it is out of the will of God for Christians to enter pagan worship places. Whatever knowledge or information causing this person to reach this conclusion became the operating knowledge base of their conscience. This is where false guilt originates. In his book, False Guilt (1993 NavPress), Steve Shores describes false guilt as an overactive conscience that operates internally to attract the expectations of other people. In other words, some-one with false guilt has a conscience that magnetizes to the expectations of others in order to meet the approval of people in the form of a pseudo-identity. Consequently, the individual will actively magnetize him/herself to a spouse, friends, peers, work associates, etc., as a means by which to be a people pleaser. This magnetized overactive conscience to be a people pleaser is fueled by the notion that one is of value by being a “good” person if they are viewed favorably in the eyes of those whom he/she is work-ing hard to please. This intense effort to please people may be self-created because they have internalized impossible standards, criticisms, rules, or judgments of other people. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) notes excessive guilt as a symptom in several categories correlated with certain types of pathology. In fact Malatesta and Wilson (1988) noted that long-term exposure to internal messages inducing a particular emotion can lead to internal messages inducing a particular emotion resulting in Surfeit pathology, meaning too much of the emotion in question can produce a maladaptive schema through which experience is interpreted.2 Therefore, false guilt can create a cauldron of self-condemnation, regret, shame, low-self-esteem often mixed with anxiety, a desire to withdraw or avoid con-frontation and the fear of punishment. A conscience that goes on overdrive seeks acceptance of oneself, others, or God (i.e. “God is so angry with me that He may permanently reject me, therefore I must do all I can to please Him and get back in His good graces.”) Every time false guilt is felt, it is projected into the conviction that the individual or even God must be angry and rejecting.

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