Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Then and Now: Working Through Thought Patterns of Guilt

I feel Guilty. 
Feeling blamed, useless, not good enough. Feeling as though I should be able to do more, handle more, speak better words, work faster, love better, be "sweeter", be more holy, give more time and energy.
Feeling like I need to fix everything.
Needing to constantly make (and keep) the peace, even when I'm not directly involved.
Feeling as though other people's problems and frustrations are a direct result of something that I did.

It's hard to remember instances where I was made to feel guilty or blamed (with specific words) in my earlier childhood years, partially because, children have a natural grace and innocence about them. But somewhere along the line, somewhere in the middle of extremely high expectations and harsh words of criticism, I started feeling the blame. I would cringe if I made a mistake or had any sort of accident (especially if I made a mess). I fully expected to be punished for being irresponsible, selfish, and/or stupid. I thought that when my sister behaved wildly (like children often do) it was a reflection on me. When my mom would cry, or rage, or get sick, it was because I created too much stress for her;  because I wasn't a good enough listener or because I couldn't fix the situation. This mentality definitely came to a head the summer before my 17th birthday, when I was specifically told that I was to blame for my mom's illness and stress and temper and exhaustion. Those words sealed my belief and still have a great impact on my life as an adult.

Sermons and messages feel like they are built specifically to attack me. I often find myself sitting in church, listening to a sermon about "respecting your parents", "keeping your family whole", "having healthy emotions" or "having a quiet and gentle spirit" and translating the message into something more along the lines of...
"reasons why [Lauren] is a terrible Christian"
"reasons why [Lauren] should never be a leader"
"reasons why [Lauren] will never be as righteous as [so-and-so]"
"reasons why [Lauren] is a terrible wife, and mother, and friend"
"reasons why [Lauren] is never going to be free"

Those thoughts and feelings are a knee-jerk reaction to feeling faulty. When we are told over and over again how bad we are and how inferior we are, we begin to feel utterly defeated. But they. are. lies.

 "I have to tell myself, "Not everything is about you."

Apparently, I say "I'm sorry" for all sorts of things. And I don't even realize that I do it most of the time. It's yet another subconscious (verbal) reaction to feeling like something is my fault, a result of my doing. My father-in-law often comments on my quickness with apologetic words and it always get me thinking.  -- If I'm always sorry for everything, am I ever really sorry for anything real? It's relatively easy to flip from feeling guilty about everything to feeling guilty about nothing. It's important to seek the truth and distinguish between guilt and conviction.

The thing about sermons and advice is, they are meant to instruct. A heart can easily become unteachable because of the protective walls built around it (always trying to maintain any semblance of pride). It's self-preservation. The heart can also easily be crippled and crushed because words feel like knives. They feel personal and cut straight to the core.  And because abuse causes us to generalize negatively about ourselves, we also tend to generalize and draw conclusions that maybe weren't meant for us.

"It's not about you being detestable, [Lauren]."
"It's about you being a human-being in need of direction, and mercy, and grace."
"It's a call and challenge to be better, not an accusation."

I have been trying to label my feelings so that I have a better grasp of how to handle each of them as they arise. It's often difficult for me to decipher between guilt and true conviction. How am I supposed to know when I am making myself feel bad, and when I am being led to make positive changes?

Generally (here we go with that word again), I am learning that conviction is different than a false sense of guilt. Conviction is that small whisper, those daily self-audits, that help us to align our goals with our current actions. It is honest, but generally kind. The goal of conviction is to encourage positive change. It wants us to become better, more whole, more holy, as a result of seeking Christ. 

Guilt, on the other hand, is usually a deafening voice. It's an aggressive, repetitive, growl of ridicule. It can rarely be escaped or made silent, even with modified behaviors. Guilt from the enemy is a thought pattern and a cruel cycle of destructive thought. These thoughts and feelings are not useful for building up. That wicked voice of guilt is cold, and isolating, and purposeless, and chaotic. And it can not be the voice controlling us.
Unchecked and unheard "conviction" (I'm sure) can also become pretty loud. But, I trust that if I am really seeking what is right (and paying attention to what and who I'm listening to) the truth will be brought to light.

I am constantly fighting between feeling and believing, emotion and fact. It's an exhausting battle between believing what experience has taught and what truth really is. I have to remind myself daily (on a minute by minute basis, even) to be careful who I'm listening to.  And I have to remember that despite constantly feeling defeated, I have to keep those "walls of pride" in check as well.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, [Mere Christianity]
"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Lauren. I really like your descriptions of conviction and guilt. Really good insights.

  2. Great post Lauren! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They have great value in them because you seek to align your thoughts with God's truth.