This is the final part of our mini-series on Morals & Guilt. By the time I was age 19 I was suffering from the terrible symptoms of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). My life was hell and I constantly asking God to take my life. I mentioned some of the issues I was struggling with in Part 1
of this series.
Some of us struggle to believe we can be forgiven for wrong-doing
I lived a life of torture because I was uncertain whether or not I would be forgiven for my ‘sins’. Specifically, I worried that God would not forgive me if I had deliberately
‘sinned’. One day a close friend prayed with me. I confided in him the ludicrous lengths I went to in my attempts to try and ensure I never ‘sinned’.
James (my friend) said to me,
- "Phil. God does not want you to live like this. Whatever you believe, it is obvious that God cannot want you to live your life in this state of turmoil!"
A couple of years ago (15 years after James had prayed for me) I was sitting with a very close friend and the tables were turned. She was suffering from immense guilt because she also believed she could not be forgiven for her wrongdoing. I said something similar to what James had said to me, 15 years before.
- "Jo. You cannot spend the rest of your life living with this level of guilt. It will tear you apart. If God exists, he cannot want you to live like this. You have to make a decision to redefine your religion and your view of God. You have to begin to believe that God will forgive you. Otherwise you will live with this guilt for the rest of your life!!"
The Tendency to experience strong guilt feelings is genetic
I actually believe that we are each born with different tendencies to experience feelings of guilt. I noticed that when I used to go to church, many people suffered terribly because they struggled to believe God would forgive them for their wrongdoing. However, some people did not struggle with these kinds of feelings at all.
Some people just had no trouble believing that God would forgive them for everything they did wrong. After all, that is what the Christian message is supposed to be all about.
If we are going to be happy we have to find a way to stop feeling so much guilt
In the end, I ended up giving up my Christian beliefs. This made a huge difference to my struggles with guilt. I no longer had to convince myself that God would forgive me. But to be honest, learning to let go of my feelings of guilt has been a long process. I have constantly had to challenge myself and re-convince myself that I do not need to feel guilty about things.
It’s an ongoing journey for those of us who suffer from crippling guilt. But if we are going to be free from anxiety, we have to challenge those feelings and accept that we do not need to feel like this. Few things cause me more anxiety than feelings of guilt. But I know that if I let them linger I will never be happy.
So each time I feel excessive guilt, I face a fork in the road. Either I carry on feeling guilty, and suffer from continued anxiety. Or I find a way to let go of those feelings, and accept that I don’t need to feel them. Failure to find the second path will mean continued anxiety and emotional turmoil.
So if we want to be free, we have to try to find the path entitled ‘I will not continue to torture myself with these feelings of guilt.’ I often find myself straying off this path. But I have to find my way back each time I stray if I want to live a satisfied life.
Question: I’d love to hear what you think. Do you ever suffer from feelings of overwhelming guilt? Or do you find guilt to be a helpful emotion? How do you manage your guilt feelings?
Try our Guilt Tendency
quiz and find out how guilt prone you are - CLICK HERE
Photo: Nishanth Jois