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Drop the Guilt

Sarah Chana Radcliffe, M. ED., C. PSYCH.

It’s a relentless inner voice telling us that we’re bad, bad, bad. How to transform guilt from inner critic to kindly mentor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Psychopaths don’t feel remorse or guilt for what they’ve done wrong. But there’s something abnormal about their brains. Regular people, on the other hand, feel plenty of guilt. We feel guilt for what we’ve said and done, things we wanted to say or do, things we didn’t say or do, and things we’re about to say or do. We sometimes even feel guilt for things that aren’t our faults at all. For many, the 1st of Elul ushers in an entire season of guilt that reaches a climax on Yom Kippur. We usually think of guilt as a feeling, as in “I feel so guilty.” But in actuality, it’s a thought — or more precisely, a judgment. Think of a court scene, complete with judge and jury. Their job is to decide whether the person on trial is culpable for a certain offense. If they declare “guilty as charged,” they’re assigning blame and responsibility for the crime to the defendant. Yes, he was the murderer, thief, or arsonist. The court is holding him accountable. In our emotional and relational life, we put ourselves through a similar type of court scene — entirely in our heads. Intrapersonal (internal) and interpersonal (between people) guilt is a verdict that one has somehow failed in one’s responsibilities to Hashem, himself, or others. It’s a logical assessment of one’s behavior — for instance, “I shouldn’t have taken advantage of her,” or “I should never have revealed her secret.” Guilt, then, is the process of passing judgment on ourselves.

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