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Responding to Our Natural Alert Systems: Guilt

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Earlier this week, we talked about the difference between healthy and unhealthy fear in our lives. Fear is a warning sign that alerts us to a serious problem that deserves our attention. Today we’re going to continue the conversation by discussing guilt.

Exciting stuff, right?

Guilt is another one of those misunderstood feelings. It’s often seen in a negative light but a healthy dose of guilt is actually beneficial for our own wellbeing and that of our relationships.

Guilt and shame often get confused for one another but they couldn’t be more different.

Guilt says “I made a mistake”.
Shame says “I am a mistake”.

Guilt is important in helping us accept responsibility for the mistakes we’ve made and it’s the prompting we need to make amends with someone. Guilt is actually a very important part of healthy relationships.

But guilt is seen as a bad thing. We’re taught to avoid it even from a young age. We try to figure out ways to mask our guilt so that no one knows that we’ve made a mistake. We don’t want to get in trouble and we surely don’t want to be punished.

Guilt Reminds Us That We’re Human.

The truth is that God doesn’t make mistakes. He is perfect in every conceivable way and we aren’t. We make mistakes and that’s an important part of life. Guilt reminds us of the difference between right and wrong and is a tool for us to use well.

If we try and live like we are free from guilt, we can mistake ourselves for perfect.
If we live in a state of perpetual guilt, we can easily take up residence in shame-ville.

Guilt Points Us to God who Loves Us.

If we are imperfect and we make mistakes, this realization of guilt can make us run to God. When we understand who we are and who God is, then we will run to him and ask for the forgiveness he freely gives out. Guilt is an alert that can point us back to the One who loves us more than we can understand.

Guilt is a vital part of the repentance process.

Guilt Can Strengthen Relationships.

One of the added benefits of a healthy sense of guilt is the humility that comes along with it. When we mess up and feel that pang of guilt, it can propel us to humble ourselves and make appropriate amends. And, when we use guilt properly, it can lead to some of the healthiest relationships.

I don’t know about you, but I love being in relationships with humble people. The problem is that I don’t always like to be humble. For years, when I did something wrong, I would feel guilty and then I would try to make the feelings go away by doing anything other than addressing the guilt head-on. I would pretend like nothing happened or I would bend over backward for the person, thinking that my actions would be accepted in lieu of an apology. And, in some scenarios, I would just avoid the person I had wronged. None of these are healthy or recommended.

Guilt is the warning signal set up by our conscience telling us that we’ve messed up. And a healthy view and awareness of guilt can help us take responsibility and live healthily with others.

What do you think about guilt?

Do you have a story of when healthy guilt served you well?

To go Deeper: Watch Shame vs. Guilt
Read Unashamed, Healing the Shame that Binds You

Disclosure: some links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 


  1. A lot of the time, my brain harasses me right before I fall asleep in bed with all the things that I’ve done wrong that day or five years previous. I feel guilty when I make even the very slightest offense. Is that healthy?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good question! I think the tenderness of your heart is incredible! You’re so sensitive to how your actions affect others so you feel guilty, but I think your focus on it is a strength taken to an unhealthy extreme.

      In moments like that, I would remind you to cling to the cross (which is easier said than done). Jesus took all of those things on the cross with him–it is finished! When I start to beat myself up over something I’ve already repented of, I remind myself of Romans 8:1 that tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

      I believe healthy guilt is a tool that points us and draws us closer to God.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It can definitely be hard for me to forget offenses, even after I’ve already repented and apologized. Romans 8:1 is a really good verse to remember, and I will try to think of it when I start crossing the boundaries between healthy and unhealthy guilt.

    Thank you so much for the advice!

    Liked by 1 person

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