7 Ways to Free Yourself From Guilt


FaithStreet.com published an article on overcoming guilt and learning to forgive ourselves which is taken from my latest book, Broken Gods: Hope, Healing and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart which is available in stores as of today!   I hope you enjoy the article.

It’s practically impossible to underestimate our capacity for making the same mistakes over and over again. We commit the same sins. Repeat the same patterns. Fall down in the same place. We often respond to this tendency with guilt, shame, and disappointment in ourselves.

But what if there was a way to not only leave this tendency for self-condemnation behind, but also to experience freedom from our own destructive habits? Would you take it?

Understanding the trap

Classically, the Seven Deadly Sins — pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust — represent the most common ways we disappoint ourselves and others. Each is a habit we hate to love and whether or not we acknowledge it, every one of us wrestles with one or more of them.

Whether we fight and fall or freely indulge in these destructive habits, few of us can deny their attraction or our struggle to resist falling under their influence. As Oscar Wilde famously put it, “I can resist everything but temptation.”

We think that the only way to free ourselves from the grip of these struggles is to make ourselves feel bad enough that we don’t want to go down that path ever again. Ironically, it is just this strategy that tends to set us up.

The worse we make ourselves feel about indulging these sins, the more we gravitate toward them to seek relief from the pain of our guilt. It is a cycle as depressing as it is familiar.

Finding the way out

Broken GodsThe reason so many of us get stuck in this obsessive cycle is that we try to address our problems in ways that entirely miss the engines that drive them. In Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longing of the Human Heart, I argue that hidden behind the seven deadly sins are seven divine longings — desires given to us by God that have been twisted because of the Fall.

While our natural attempt to fight brokenness involves trying to avoid our flaws and failings, the only way we can be delivered from our pain is to discover the hidden longings behind our sins. Then, not only can we identify ways to satisfy those deeper desires and set ourselves free from the obsessive sin-guilt cycle of sin and guilt, but we can also discover God’s plan for our ultimate fulfillment.

Uncovering our seven divine longings

Hiding behind the seven deadly sins of pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust are divine longings for abundance, dignity, justice, peace, trust, well-being, and communion, respectively. Let’s break them down a bit.   READ THE REST AT FAITHSTREET.COM

Shame on You

I’m So Ashamed.

Shame, guilt, embarrasment.  Emotions that are as universally experienced as they are universally unwelcome.

Elizabeth Duffy has a great post on shame on her blog.  Personal, poignant, and thought-provoking.   But I thought I would chime in to offer some additional insights from Pope John Paul II.

In Love and Responsibility, then Karol Woytyla, wrote a great deal about shame.  He argued that shame is a protective emotion that warns us that we are being treated as an object, not a person.  I think Elizabeth’s example of discovering her friend’s dad’s Playboy magazines is particularly apt.  Looking through the magazines, she saw plenty of examples of people treated as objects, and she felt a sense of shame.  God has hardwired us to expect to be loved as persons and not used as things.  Shame is the feeling that warns us that we are in proximity of a situations where people–and possibly even I–might be used.

Shame is a protective emotion like fear (which warns us about physical harm) and guilt (that warns us about harm to our integrity) or even embarrassment (which warns us of potential threats to our social well-being).

Like any emotion, protective emotions like shame, fear, and embarrassment can be healthy or unhealthy.  They are healthy if they help us identify a threat, take corrective steps,  and move on.   They are unhealthy if, instead of protecting us, they paralyze us and stop us from doing things that would be good for us to do.  Fear becomes anxiety when it stops us from taking healthy risks.  Guilt becomes scrupulosity when it stops us from receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Embarrassment become social anxiety when it stops us from engaging with others.

We shouldn’t be afraid or resentful of these protective emotions, but we should be careful to use them as they are intended.  They aren’t supposed to paralyze us.  They should move us to solutions that resolve the problems to which they bring our attention.  And if these protective emotions are more suffocating than helpful, we should seek help, because that is not how we were created to be.

 For more information on overcoming unhealthy manifestations of shame, guilt, and anxiety, check out God Help Me, This Stress is Driving Me Crazy!