If you’re distracted because you feel guilty… because you are actually guilty, here are some hard steps to take to make things better.
Numbers 5:6–7 (NIV) “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.
Mark 1:4–5 (NIV) And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Luke 19:8 (NIV) But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
James 5:15–16 (NIV) And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Matthew 5:23–24 (NIV) “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Guilt feelings can influence us in several ways.
1. Defensive Thinking. Introductory psychology textbooks usually describe these as defense mechanisms, ways of thinking that most people use to avoid or reduce feelings of anxiety, frustration, and stress. These thoughts tend to distort reality in some way, and usually we are not consciously aware that we are using them. To some extent all defensive mechanisms protect us from feelings of guilt. … Sometimes, when guilt feelings begin to arise, we get angry at others, try to justify our behavior, deny any personal responsibility for what has happened, or even apologize profusely.
2. Self-Condemnation. Guilt feelings almost always arouse anxiety and self-condemning feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, weakness, low esteem, pessimism, and insecurity. Sometimes, there is self-punishment: the person acts like a martyr who is pushed around by others. At times there may be a “poor-little-me-I-don’t-deserve-to-be-treated-well” attitude. For others there is an inability to relax, a refusal to accept compliments, sexual inhibition, an unwillingness to say “no” to the demands of others, or an avoidance of leisure activities—all because the person feels guilty and unable to accept forgiveness. Often there is anger that is held within and unexpressed. This can lead the person into depression, sometimes with thoughts of suicide. Some people continually “put themselves down” and then wonder why this alienates and drives away their friends, who don’t enjoy being with someone who wallows in self-condemnation.
Some of this self-condemnation may have roots in childhood. For example, there
3. Physical Reactions. Guilt feelings, like any other psychological reaction, can produce physical tension. This is seen clearly in Psalm 38 and the other penitential psalms. Whenever tensions build in a person and are not released, the body weakens and eventually starts to break down. S
4. Moral Pain. What is the impact when young people, many not even out of their teens, go to war and witness excessive acts of brutality, cruelty, and violence—some of which they may have committed themselves? It is not surprising that many veterans are severely affected by the stress. Because they are so distressing and painful, the memories of these events often are pushed from awareness, but they fester below the surface and eventually surface as the post-traumatic stress reactions that we will consider in more detail in later chapters.
Because of their experiences with intense violence, many veterans feel an ongoing guilt that doesn’t go away but is accompanied by shame, confusion, depression, anger, inner emptiness, a fear of intimacy, and an inability to trust others. This is a deep moral pain that arises from the realization that one has committed acts with horrible and lasting consequences. Because of what they have done, sometimes even under orders from their superiors, these people struggle with the realization that they may have ended lives, torn apart families, brought incredible suffering, or inflicted debilitating physical conditions and maiming that can never be atoned for or undone. These realizations persist as moral pain in veterans, incarcerated prisoners, law enforcement people, or others who might seek counseling. They try, often in vain, to get help from counselors who know about stress management and may even understand guilt but who have no idea how to help guilt-burdened people find forgiveness. – Gary R. Collins