A Closer Look At Guilt, Pseudoguilt and Shame

This section uses excerpts from “How to Forgive Ourselves Totally” by RT Kendall.

1. True guilt that comes from God is a valid sense of shame for having done what you knew was wrong. This can be dealt with by confession and receiving forgiveness. (1 John 1:9)

2. Pseudoguilt or false guilt is not from God. It is a feeling of shame for not meeting the standards of God, others or myself. We deeply desire respect and because of these events, it eludes us. Personal or family pride contributes to our feelings of shame. It can become true guilt when we don’t forgive ourselves. “I know God forgives me, but I cannot forgive myself.” “I can’t believe I did that.”

a. Toward God – we feel that we have let Him down when we sin and should punish ourselves for a time following the sin. It usually depends on the gravity of the sin in people’s eyes or if we are repeat offenders.

b. Toward Others – Fear of man. Preoccupied with what people think. Not meeting the expectations of others. My reputation may suffer and I will lose respect and admiration.

c. Toward Myself – Preoccupied with my performance. The surgery did not go the way I wanted. Perfectionism is unloving, lacks grace and is a form of self-hatred. If I fall below my standard to write, read, clean, call, email, or if my ministry, church, relationship, business is not growing according to the goals I have set, I am disappointed with myself or others.

 Here are some examples of Pseudoguilt:

1. I have not spoken to a friend for several months, but when they call I feel guilty if I do not find a chance to meet in the next week.

2. If I don’t read my magazine or medical journal subscriptions I feel guilty for wasting money and lacking information.

3. I feel guilty saying no to dinner invitations and sometimes lie to avoid feeling awkward.

4. I feel guilty cutting off a phone conversation lest they think they are not important to me.

5. I feel guilty turning down expensive tickets to all-day sporting events when I would rather spend the afternoon napping.

6. If a patient wants an immediate appointment or surgery, I do not want them to be inconvenienced and perhaps angry with me.

7. I buy or am gifted an item of clothing. If I do not wear it or fit into it I feel guilty.

8. I no longer enjoy being in a relationship, but I do not want them to be angry with me or think that there is something wrong with them. They might think I am aloof or arrogant. They will be hurt and may try to ruin my reputation. They may be mad at God but blame me because the relationship didn’t work out.

9. I don’t get everything done that I had scheduled for today. I am irritated with myself.


More Observations

1. Authenticity – Jesus was congruent. What He did and what He said were perfectly matched with whomever he was speaking and whoever was trying to manipulate him. Jesus often answered a question with a question.

2. False guilt (Pseudoguilt)  is a sense of shame that is not from God but from others.

3. Pseudoguilt is shame regarding what others will think or say about me if and when they find out what I did. No one may know, but just the possibility of anyone finding out may produce pseudoguilt.

4. Pseudoguilt/Shame coming from others may be real or imagined.

5. Pseudoguilt may be from not believing I am forgiven by God, or if I am forgiven, I feel that I must punish myself so that I and others believe that I am truly sorry and not using “cheap grace.”

6. Fear of man (pseudoguilt) prevents me from being authentic and robs my energy. The closer and more valuable the relationships, the more physically and psychologically damaging is the lack of authenticity. In family and work dynamics, honesty may risk economic or relational security, significance, social isolation or reputation.

7. Fear of man issues:

a. I downplay my opinion of Jesus around  atheists, the educated, scientists or physicians.

b. I act differently around influential/wealthy/beautiful people and want to be affirmed by them.

8. When I have the fear of man, the circumstances/problems seem larger than God’s resources.

9. Jesus did not have a fear of man. “Teacher we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Mark 12:13-17).

10. Repressing feelings causes resentment and anger at others and at yourself for not being authentic and telling the truth.

11. High blood pressure can result from anger, bitterness or resentment against yourself, God or others.

12. Depression may result from feeling trapped. (You are not really trapped, but refuse to pay the price for freedom = honesty and trusting God that He will help you with the consequences.)

13. I see many who complain of memory problems who are also not living authentic lives. It takes twice the mental energy to live a “double life” of pretending to be someone you are not to keep the peace.

14. Pseudoguilt can cause an overly scrupulous conscience and overwork.

a. Doctors, nurses, pastors, parents, supervisors all have excellent reasons for not stopping to rest or taking a Sabbath.

This section is based on “How to Forgive Ourselves Totally” by RT Kendall. Charisma House 2007.


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