How do you deal with feeling constantly guilty? Maybe you committed a sin long ago, such as cheating or stealing. Maybe you didn’t do anything wrong and yet you feel constant guilt for some unknown reason.
Or maybe you feel guilty because you feel like you failed someone. Maybe you didn’t say yes when someone asked for a favor, and you don’t know how to say no as a Christian without feeling guilty. Maybe you hurt a loved one by accident or even on purpose. Maybe you weren’t there when someone important needed you…or you weren’t there when someone you love died.
“I can’t remove this constant guilt I have for life because my mother more than anyone should still be here enjoying it,” says a She Blossoms reader on Dealing With Guilty Feelings When Your Mom Dies. “Nothing has been the same since she left and I miss her so much it physically hurts. Why do should I get to enjoy all the things I know my mum would have loved? I constantly feel guilty for not having a family while she was alive, not getting married or settling down. I feel constant guilt that I didn’t do enough mother-daughter things with her because I took for granted that we would have all the time in the world. I was upstairs asleep when my mother passed away. Although I had been with her holding her hand at the end stages, I was not with my mom when she took her last breath. I hope she didn’t feel scared or alone. I just don’t know how to live on without her. The constant guilt is eating me up inside every day.”
As an outsider, you can see that this reader has nothing to feel guilty about. Her mother died alone, but that wasn’t because the reader did something wrong or committed a sin! In fact, her mom may have died alone because she wanted to die alone. Her daughter is dealing with constantly feeling guilty for something that her mother may have wanted — or even planned all along. Some people want to die alone because they feel tethered to their loved ones and uncomfortable or even anxious about dying with their family present.
You can objectively know something is true (eg, you may believe in God) but not internalize it so it actually changes your life (following Jesus, listening for the Holy Spirit, and dealing with feeling constantly guilty).
3 Ways to Deal With Constant Guilt
How do you deal with feeling constantly guilty? Whether you’re dealing with guilty feelings after your dog dies or shame because of a past sin you haven’t confessed, how do you get over the past and move on with your life?
This blog post is part of my She Blossoms Through the Bible project; I’m writing an article for every chapter in every book of Scripture. I’m moving through the book of Leviticus now; today the focus is on Leviticus 5: the Sin Offerings that God told Moses to share with the Israelites and priests. Guilt and atonement was the focus of this chapter.
1. Let your guilty feelings arise and be known
“If someone incurs guilt in one of these cases, he is to confess he has committed that sin,” God told Moses in Leviticus 5:5-6. “He must bring his penalty for guilt for the sin he has committed to the Lord: a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement on his behalf for his sin.” God didn’t tell Moses that the Israelites had to be aware of their sin, confess their guilt, and bring a sacrifice for atonement for God’s sake. Rather, guilty Israelites were supposed to confess their sins and make sacrifices so they could be cleansed, purified, and forgiven. They wouldn’t deal with feelings of constant guilt or shame because they were made right in the eyes of their fellow Israelites, the priests, and God.
If you haven’t named your “sin” and brought it into the light, you will keep feeling guilty. Whether or not you did something wrong, if you keep hiding you will never get over the constant guilt. It will stay deep in the dark pit of your soul, eating away at your joy, peace, light and life. The irony is that you may have done nothing wrong — like the daughter who feels constantly guilty for not being there when her mom died. Our pets can be a huge source of guilt for many people — especially owners who have to re-home or surrender their dogs. Or maybe you did do something seriously wrong (steal from your grandfather), immoral (cheat on your husband) or even evil (deliberately harm a human or animal). Regardless of what you feel constantly guilty for, you must bring it into the light before you can deal with it.
2. Involve someone you trust in the healing process
Leviticus 5 tells us exactly how Moses and the priests mediated between God and the Israelites. Lots of bloody sacrifices — and even less expensive sacrifices such as a handful of flour (minus the oil and frankincense, for they were sacrifices of joyful worship). The Israelites couldn’t deal with their sin and guilt on their own; they needed an intermediary or mediator who could approach God on their behalf. For Christians, Jesus Christ is that mediator. He is the one who goes between believers and God, who makes it possible for Christians to live by the Holy Spirit and approach God with freedom, awe, reverence, love and joy.
Your guilt needs air, space, light, and breath. Your guilt needs a witness. If you want to stop feeling constantly guilty about something you did, you must bring it to someone. As a follower of Jesus, I brought my regret, guilt and shame to God every day for a long time. I tried so hard to forgive myself, to receive God’s forgiveness, and to deal with my feelings of constant guilt and shame. Nothing worked, not even confessing my sins to God and asking Jesus Christ to heal me. How did I finally deal with constant guilt? I grew into a strong relationship with the Holy Spirit (whom I call Ruach or Roo-Roo sometimes). I learned the depth, width, length and height of God’s wild, reckless, free love for me. My identity changed, and that changed my heart. And my heart changed everything — including the constant guilt that I dealt with all the time.
3. Decide how you will respond to God’s call on your life
Here’s more of what Moses heard God tell him and the Israelites in Leviticus 5:2-4: “Or if someone touches anything unclean—a carcass of an unclean wild animal, or unclean livestock, or an unclean swarming creature—without being aware of it, he is unclean and incurs guilt. Or if he touches human uncleanness—any uncleanness by which one can become defiled—without being aware of it, but later recognizes it, he incurs guilt. Or if someone swears rashly to do what is good or evil—concerning anything a person may speak rashly in an oath—without being aware of it, but later recognizes it, he incurs guilt in such an instance.” Notice how God allowed the Israelites freedom until they realized they had sinned and were guilty. When a man or woman realized they were guilty, then they had to make a sacrifice and atone for their sins. But if they didn’t know they were unclean (sinful), they didn’t have to deal with guilt.
You feel constantly guilty for a reason — but that doesn’t mean you did something wrong. The accuser (the devil) is constantly prowling, always looking for reasons to make you feel guilty, bad, stupid, mean, evil and wrong. The accuser is a liar who wants you to feel terrible about yourself. God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the exact opposite! God wants to love you fully and freely. Jesus Christ died so you wouldn’t have to feel constantly guilty. The Holy Spirit is hovering, or perhaps already working any our own spirit. Your feelings of guilt can drive you to constantly feeling terrible and ashamed, or they can drive you to the foot of the cross.
This blog post wasn’t supposed to give you a definite answer to the “how do I deal with constant guilt?” question. How you approach God with your feelings is between you and Him. But the most important thing is that you respond to His call on your life. Don’t let your guilty feelings rule you, waste your life, and destroy your soul. Instead, respond to God’s love, peace, light and joy!
Learn what this means. If you feel confused, comment below. Ask questions. Even better, talk to Christians or perhaps even your pastor or a counselor. Find out how to live in freedom, joy, love, peace, patience and light…because that life will heal you for now and ever.
With His love,
P.S. If you feel guilty all the time even though you did nothing wrong, read Is God Punishing You for Something You Did?