Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you


Options for Reducing
Excessive Guilt
to Normal

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

colorbar.gif (1095 bytes)

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/wounds/guilt.htm

  Updated  April 11, 2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Plain links will open an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 1 in this Web site - free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and reduce significant false-self wounds One of six psychological "wounds" that stress survivors of low-nurturance childhoods is the combination of excessive shame (I'm a worthless, unlovable person) and excessive guilts (I do bad things). This article focuses on assessing for and reducing excessive guilts.

      This brief YouTube video previews what you'll read in this article. The intro mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site - I've reduced that to seven.

      This article offers perspective on...

  • what guilt is, and what causes it (you may be surprised!),

  • how excessive guilt may affect your relationships and behavior,

  • options for reducing excessive guilts to normal, and for avoiding unwarranted new guilts; and...

  • options for adapting to other people who are excessively guilty.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

      Reflect for a moment - what are your favorite guilts? Have you ever devised a strategy to reduce significant guilts? Do you know anyone who has? Premise: excessive guilts can be intentionally reduced to normal, healthy levels. Do you believe this? This article may have more meaning for you if you look at photos of yourself as a child, and each minor or grown child in your life now.

colorbutton.gif  What is Guilt?

      Premises: guilt is an automatic mental + emotional response to believing that we have "done something wrong" - i.e. we have violated someone's rules about "proper attitudes and behavior." Guilt and shame usually occur together and feel similar, but have different roots.

       Moderate guilt is a healthy, useful response, for it regulates our self-nurturance ("I better brush my teeth.") and our social behaviors ("I should apologize for being late.") Excessive guilt indicates significant psychological wounding, and promotes personal and relationship problems like those below.

colorbutton.gif  Where Does Guilt Comes From?

      See if some version of this example is familiar:

      As a young girl, Sharon was taught a powerful rule by many people and media characters, in different ways "You should always be nice." There were many variations: Mom said "Nice girls are never rude." Grampa Larry often said "Your brother Nick is always so thoughtful and polite." The minister praised Bible characters and congregational members for being courteous, respectful, obedient, humble, and charitable. Girlfriends scathingly criticized peers for being "stuck up, gross, and selfish." 

      From parental scoldings, praises, and modeling their values, young Sharon began the life-long process of accumulating rules for relating to other people: shoulds, oughts, musts, cant's, supposed to's, and have to’s, Among her personality subselves, her budding Historian collected and stored these perceptions. Her tireless Librarian subself indexed what became thousands of behavioral rules to cover "How Sharon should or must act" in all kinds of solitary and social situations.

      To win daily approval and acceptance at home and school, she developed tireless Inner Critic, Perfectionist, and Moralizer subselves, who often teamed up. These zealous personality parts formed her “conscience.” They assumed the protective responsibility of comparing Sharon's daily and past thoughts, decisions, feelings and actions to these rules, and rendering judgments on them "for her own good."

      To guard against painful disapproval and possible rejection, Critic studied Sharon’s parents, and copied their words and voice dynamics to chide and scorn the girl whenever she broke any rules. The adults’ voice dynamics and body language were often sarcastic, angry, pitying, scornful, exasperated, and disapproving.

      Like Sharon’s (wounded) parents, her Inner Critic didn’t praise her for following the rules. Critic learned to feel “That’s just what’s expected, so it doesn’t deserve any praise.” Critic heard the minister say "Pride is a sin, (and sin is BAD).” The girl's Grandmother often tsk-tsked about people with "swelled heads" who were "full of themselves." Critic dutifully rebuked Sharon for feeling self-satisfaction for “being nice.”

      As we all do, young Sharon grew a Guilty Child subself. When this subself activated, it infused Sharon with the feeling of guilt and related thoughts. This happened every time an adult or her Critic pronounced or implied that the girl had broken some rule.

      At the same time, another young subself was learning to feel and store her shame. Fairy tales helped that subself grow, when kids were sternly told by adults "You should be ashamed of yourself young lady for ___")

      In her early years, Sharon didn't know many family and social rules, so she broke them often. Her siblings, relatives, and caregivers told her that, often, "for your own good" (and their comfort). Fueled by her People-pleaser subself's  need to be “good” and "nice," (liked and accepted), Her personal library of behavioral rules grew and grew.

      As Sharon decoded thousands of judgments from her outer and inner Critics during her childhood (including some praises), her Shamed Girl grew the conviction "I'm real bad. I always break the rules. I am SO stupid and dumb. No one could ever love me!"

      When Critic delivered scathing lectures on how she'd broken another rule again, her Shamed Girl and Guilty Girl would disable Sharon's young true Self, giving Sharon thoughts like "I did a bad thing (broke a rule)” and guilt feelings; and/or she thought "I am a BAD girl." and felt ashamed.

      When she thought people around her knew she did and felt these things, she felt embarrassed. Pretty soon, all it took was certain people looking at her, rolling their eyes and sighing, or just saying "Sharon..." and her internal Guilty and Shamed Girls spasmed. The guilty and shamed thoughts and feelings tended to merge and feel the same, as the Earth circled the sun.

      Because these feelings hurt, Sharon also automatically developed a Hurt Girl subself. Her sole job was to bring Sharon the useful emotion of pain. Some related Guardian subselves developed too. They included an Idealist/Optimist, a crafty Liar, a persuasive Procrastinator, a Magician, an hysterical Catastrophizer, a Sneak, a shrill Worrier, a powerful People-pleaser, and a Loner.

      Their specialized 24-hour jobs all aimed to guard the Guilty, Shamed, and Hurt Girls from perceived sources of inner and outer pain. Sharon also grew an Angry subself, who developed over time into an adolescent Rebel. But that one impulsively broke too many rules in the social world, so the Guardian subselves tried to paralyze her - in public, anyway.

      All these Guardian personality-parts worked tirelessly with Librarian and Historian subselves to decide what actions might produce significant pain. Sometimes they'd invoke Critic to sternly rebuke and lecture Sharon like her parents, hoping she would avoid pain and injury.

      Based on their inherited (unconscious) libraries of social and parenting rules, Sharon’s Mom and Dad believed they were raising their daughter well enough. They had no awareness of the group of subselves their daughter was developing, or how often she was tormented by her vigilant Inner Critic and Perfectionist because of their rebukes and sarcasms. They occasionally worried over "how hard she is on herself."

      As Sharon grew, her increasingly knowledgeable, wise, far-seeing true Self was often disabled by her reactive inner kids and their Guardian subselves. That resulted in her Self doubting her own wisdom and inner-family leadership ability (which was her real talent). Most other subselves ignored and/or dis-trusted the girl's developing Self.

      Sharon wasn’t aware of her subselves and their goals and traits. No one ever talked about normal adults and kids having dynamic "inner families," or encouraged her to discern what her personality was and how it "worked." She was aware of feeling crazy and confused at times, when various agitated subselves took her Self over and gave her conflicting thought and feelings.

+ + +

      This is a skeletal sketch of where (I think) excessive guilt and shame come from. Does it seem credible? The keys are:

      Very young kids instinctively seek to earn vital adult attention and approval by evolving a complex array of good-bad, right-wrong rules on how they’re “supposed to” behave. They expand these rules to get approval and acceptance from their playmates and schoolmates.

      Most early rules (shoulds, musts, have-to's, cant's, etc.) develop from perceiving adult responses to a young child's behaviors. Rule-building starts automatically before a child's vocabulary and coherent thinking develop - e.g. "If I smile, (the big person) smiles and makes nice sounds."

      To avoid the agony of caregiver rejection and abandonment (i.e. potential death), kids develop Guilty and Shamed inner kids, a tireless Inner Critic, and an array of other protective Guardian subselves. Unless aware caregivers intervene, these normal personality subselves get used to distrusting and disabling the child’s immature true Self. They generate "guilty thoughts" and feelings.

      Depending on many factors, a child may grow up to become dominated by guilty, shamed, and self-critical subselves - situationally or all the time. Typical adults aren't aware of how their subselves cause this in themselves or other people. Excessive guilt and shame can self-amplify if the child was taught “I shouldn’t feel so guilty,” and “I should love myself!” (rules).

      People dominated by shamed, guilty, and fearful subselves unconsciously choose each other as mates and associates. In Millennium America, over half of them develop relationship and parenting problems and divorce psychologically or legally. About 70% are parents. From cultural, ancestral, religious, and parental training (rules), their Inner Critic or Blamer insists the divorced parent is bad (shameful) for breaking fundamental rules ("Good parents never divorce!"). This causes significant guilts.

      How can excessive guilt affect key relationships and daily serenity?

colorbutton.gif Common Effects of Excessive Guilt

      Recall - the psychological wounds of excessive shame and guilt usually occur together, .They combine to cause symptoms like these, and

      1) not living from a realistic "Personal Bill of Rights." This is a primal set of beliefs whose theme is "I am a unique, worthy, dignified human being, and I have a set of unarguable rights to use in making my decisions - even if others resent, criticize, or disagree with me."

      Typical kids raised in low-nurturance (neglectful and shaming) homes are usually not taught or encouraged to develop a realistic set of personal rights, which means they have to intentionally develop a Bill of Rights as adults. Until they identify and authenticate their personal rights and reduce their wounds, they will endure... 

      2) ineffective communication. Excessive shame and guilt cause people other than sociopaths to unconsciously adopt an "I'm 1-down (inferior)" attitude in their thinking and interacting with other people. This attitude may be amplified when communicating with self-confident, aggressive, self-centered, or controlling (1-up) people. Common results are...

  • ineffective assertion of current opinions, values, needs, and boundaries;

  • avoiding normal eye contact;

  • notable stuttering and mumbling;

  • routinely accepting a Victim role; and...

  • feeling timid, anxious, incompetent, frustrated, and pessimistic.

Excessive shame and guilt cause behaviors which amplify inferiority and strengthen other false-self  wounds, until the person hits personal bottom and commits to personal recovery.

      A related impact of excessive guilt is...

       3) automatically adopting a defensive and/or apologetic (1-down, inferior) attitude with some or all other people - specially those who are aggressive and judgmental, and some or all authorities. A symptom of this is the compulsion to over-explain and justify personal opinions and behaviors whether other people challenge them or not.

      Another symptom is apologizing all the time, even for things that could not be controlled ("I'm sorry it's so humid in here.") Overfocusing on explaining (defending against inner or social criticism) usually inhibits productive assertion and problem-solving.

      Another tragic impact of excessive guilt and shame is...

      4) ineffective or harmful parenting. Excessively guilty (wounded) parents and caregivers are often perfectionistic, rigid, and over-critical of minor kids and grandkids. Without meaning to, this promotes the young people developing overactive Guilty and Shamed inner children and related Guardian subselves - repeating the toxic wounding cycle. Excessive guilt can cause parents to be oversensitive and over-reactive to others' opinions of their children's character and behaviors. ("I'm SO sorry my klutzy son spilled his drink!")

      5) Parents who separate or divorce often feel excessive guilts related to the pain their minor kids and/or parents have experienced. This and other toxic traits can promote significant problems in trying to coordinate childcare with an ex mate.

      Excessive divorce-related guilts and shame also can stress relationships with new partners (stepparents) by promoting chronic conflicts. ["My child will always come first with me (because I feel so bad for what I've done to her/him)."] These primal emotions also hinder providing effective child discipline, which causes a web of secondary family-system problems.

      Because each wounded person and their situation is unique, you may experience other guilt-related personal and relationship problems. Though the details may differ, the themes are constant.

      Problems like these are really caused by a mix of psychjological wounds and some key unawarenesses, not just excessive guilt. The latter is a major contributor, and needs to be intentionally reduced as part of an overall wound-reduction program.

      So what can Sharon and you do to reduce or avoid guilt-related problems like these? To begin answering that, try this...

Reality check - pause and reflect: on a scale of one ("I never have problems with guilt") to ten ("I constantly feel guilty about many things"), how much of a problem is guilt in your present life? Is "reduce my psychological wounds, including major guilts," among your top five current life priorities?

      I use guilts (plural) because each major broken rule needs to be  examined individually, and most of us have a collection of significant guilts. Is this true of you?

colorbutton.gif Options for Reducing Excessive Guilts

      If you feel excessive guilts, do you think you can reduce them? Once committed to reducing their psychological wounds, I have seen many inner-family therapy clients...

  • permanently reduce excessive guilts to healthy levels, and...

  • consistently avoid excessive and undeserved new guilts.

You can do both of these things if your true Self (capital "S") is free to guide your other subselves! Notice how your dominant subselves react to that idea now - is your (their) glass half-full or half-empty?...

       Basic options for permanently reducing excessive guilts include...

  • Prepare yourself with the options below. A key is committing to reduce the psychological wounds that promote excessive guilt and other stressors;

  • Prioritize current or chronic guilts (minor > moderate > major)

  • Identify and evaluate each broken rule that causes you major guilt, one at a time. For each rule that someone else taught you, define your own rule, and give yourself permission to live by it - even if it causes other able people discomfort;

  • Patiently coach and retrain your subselves - specially your Inner Critic, People Pleaser, and Guilty and Shamed Inner Kids - to accept that it's healthy and good to stop living by other people's rules and start living by your own rules;

  • For each broken rule of your own that has significantly hurt someone else,

    • own your responsibility honestly, without shaming yourself,

    • forgive yourself, and...

    • where possible, apologize sincerely - ideally in person.

      Notice how your subselves react to these options...

       Let's look at each option briefly, before looking at how to avoid unwarranted new guilts...

1) Prepare Yourself

      See how you feel about acting on these options now vs. "soon"...

    Learn how to tell whether your Self (capital "S") is guiding your personality. You're far more apt to succeed in reducing excessive guilts and shame (and other wounds) when s/he leads your other subselves.

    Define your goals: Remind yourself that "excessive guilt" is a symptom of the core problem - a disabled true Self and distrustful, disorganized personality subselves. So your main target is to meet and harmonize your subselves (recover) over time. While you're doing that, important secondary targets include...

  • identifying and reducing specific excessive guilts,

  • guarding against unwarranted new guilts,

  • learning how to react to excessively-guilty (wounded) adults and kids (p. 2), and...

  • teaching and encouraging any dependent kids in your life to learn these three things. 

Try saying these goals out loud ("I need to identify and reduce my excessive guilts"), and notice if you need to rephrase or edit them to make them your goals.

      Assess yourself for psychological wounds via Lesson 1. If your true Self is often disabled, commit to a personal high-priority recovery program, while balancing the rest of your life. To begin, identify the subselves that comprise your unique personality and which ones usually lead them! Then patiently work to empower your Self, and reorganize and harmonize your other subselves.

      Clarify your definitions of guilt and shame. Then list on paper the specific past and present things you (your subselves) feel excessively guilty about. Expect to reduce these things one at a time (below).

      Learn the difference between superficial and core attitude changes, and read this article about reducing excessive shame. Reducing excessive shame and guilts to normal levels are related but separate attitude changes.

      Coach yourself to clarify things you can change or affect, and things you can't. Typical kids in low-nurturance ("dysfunctional") homes are trained to feel guilty for things they can't control - e.g. "You're bad because you wet your bed again and made me clean up after you!"

      Decide whether you believe that every able adult is responsible for their own comfort and happiness. Believing this without ambivalence frees you to act on your own integrity (personal values and rules) even if it causes other people discomfort. Not honestly confronting people who are too scared or shamed to fill their own needs is called enabling.  A classic example is not empathically confronting a chemically-dependent (wounded) person to avoid "making them feel bad" or "causing a conflict."

      More preparation options for permanently reducing significant and chronic guilts...

      Affirm "My guilt is a normal, healthy emotion which - in moderation - helps me to make wise life decisions. I am not trying to become guiltless, I'm going to reduce excessive guilt to a moderate (non-crippling) level."

      Seek and use a “guilt hero.” Do you know anyone who has really freed themselves from (vs. denied and repressed) excessive guilt? If so, learn from them. If you don‘t know anyone, ask other people if they do. Clergy, counselors, and coaches may be good models and/or referral sources.   

      Identify your specific rights as a dignified, worthy human being, and use them to evaluate the rules someone feels you’ve broken. See if you agree: “As a child, I was taught 'You must accept and obey our (adult) rules.' As a mature, unique adult, I’m responsible for devising and living by my own rules, and for the results from that."

      Review your expectations about psychological-wound reduction, including reducing excessive guilts. Do they include "I can and will reduce the excessive guilts that burden me," or something else? If "something else," reflect:

Have I changed at least one other core aspect of my personality before? (e.g. “I used to: laugh when I hurt / lie, at times / never say ‘no’ / never call the doctor / fear sex /...”)

How did I make that change? (e.g. consciously, or "It just happened"? With help, or alone? Gradually, or suddenly? Because of a painful trauma, or just "It was time to change"? With tools like affirmations, prayers, reminders, images, or not?; etc.

      A final preparation-option is…

      Identify the specific benefits of reducing your excessive guilts. If you're not clear yet, try identifying the specific personal or relationship discomforts that your inflated guilt causes you. Then vividly imagine your life to be free of those. Keep this vision, or a written description or symbol of it, where you can remind yourself along the way of why you're making this powerful wound-recovery change.

      If you feel excessive guilts, your true Self is probably disabled and your personality subselves are disorganized and conflictual. You can choose to improve that by doing "parts work": - i.e. intentionally retraining and reorganizing your subselves. If you disregard this task, you're likely to achieve temporary guilt-reduction at best - i.e. your excessive guilts will return.

      Identify any people around you who may criticize your values and behaviors. If any of them cause excessive guilts, confront each person and assert for more respectful, constructive feedback. If they won’t, review your rights and dignity, choose to distance from them without guilt! They’re probably ruled by a false self (wounded), and don’t know it.

      Practice differentiating your guilt from other people's guilt, and encourage your subselves to respectfully give other adults and kids responsibility to reduce theirs while you reduce yours.

      Apply relevant ideas and options in this article on forgiving yourself and other people. Then read these ideas on giving people effective feedback. Your true Self needs to be trusted by your other subselves to succeed. Have you experienced that genuine forgiveness (letting go) reduces excessive guilt?

      Stay clear on the big picture: Lesson 1 and its guidebook aim to help you free your Self (capital "S"), harmonize your subselves, and reduce your psychological wounds.

      Reminder: converting excessive shame to genuine self-care and love is a separate, vital part of Lesson 1. Shame and guilt feel the same, and are reduced differently. If you're raising minor kids, each caregiver choosing to reduce psychological wounds will steeply increase your odds of protecting your youngsters from the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle and earning priceless old-age contentment.

      So the first steps toward reducing excessive guilts are to choose a long-range view, and patiently invest in preparation steps like those above. Then you're ready to...  

2) Identify and Evaluate Your Broken Rules

      Pick a familiar guilt, and imagine applying these ideas to it as you read. A way to do that is to complete this sentence: "I feel really guilty when I _____."     

      Recall: guilty thoughts and feelings erupt when your well-intentioned Inner Critic and Perfectionist subselves scathingly blame you for “making a mistake,” "failing," or “doing something wrong” – i.e. they feel you've broken an important rule. Most of our earliest of behavioral rules (shoulds, oughts, musts, and have-to's) always come from other people - typically our caregivers and hero/ines.

      We form other rules from experiencing significant pain and pleasure ("If I get a bad school grades my parents get angry.") Across your years, you unconsciously formed hundreds (thousands?) of behavioral rules about right / wrong, good / bad, and safe / unsafe values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.

      To validate this, reflect, and say out loud the first ten rules you think all young children should be taught about "good behavior." - for example...

"Always tell the truth;"

 "Be a good friend"

 "Don't whine"

 "Be kind and patient"

"Don't be selfish or proud"

 "Always do your best"

 "Love your parents and grandparents"

"Always look on the bright side"

 "Don't be rude or insult other people"

 "Obey God's commandments"

 ...and so on.

      Now ask your Inner Critic to list some key attributes of "bad persons / men / women / parents" - e.g. "People are bad if they lie / steal / are lazy / drink to much / ignore their kids / are self centered / harm other people / kick small animals / use pornography / etc. Each of these judgments is based on someone's rules. Some are universal, and some are ancestral, ethnic, and/or religious. Many may not  apply to you in some circumstances.

      Premise: because we all have different values, perceptions, and needs, we don't need to feel guilty about breaking someone else's rule that we don't agree with! Example: if someone insists "You must  brush and floss after every meal (or you're self-neglectful, lazy, and bad), and you believe "No, I think brushing once a day before bed is enough," you have a different (vs. better) rule. If your Inner Critic berates you for breaking another person's rules, your Guilty and Shamed inner kids suffer and their tireless Guardian subselves activate.

      Premises - you have the unarguable right to identify the rules that cause you excessive guilts, and decide whether they're your rules or someone else's. If they're not your rules, you have the right to discard them and forge and live by new rules of your own without guilt or shame. Every other person has the same right. Do you agree?

      Consider these examples:

Old (Other's) Rule

New (Your) Rule

  • Always be nice to other people

  • Respectfully confront other people if necessary, to help both of us

  • Always obey the rules

  • Evaluate important rules, and propose better ones where I can

  • Always help other people

  • Help myself and other people equally, except in emergencies without guilt

  • Cheerfully sacrifice your own needs for others' needs

  • Honor my and other people's needs equally

  • Never disappoint your parents

  • Act on my own integrity and respectfully accept inevitable differences with each parent

  • Humbly obey God and the Bible without question, and accept your sin

  • Thoughtfully evolve my own spiritual beliefs,  practices, and growth without guilts

  • Never talk back to elders or authorities

  • Assert my opinions, needs, and limits respectfully, as a co-equal human being

  • Promote harmony, and avoid conflict and confrontation

  • See inner and social conflict as inevitable, and seek to use it constructively

  • Never be selfish or self-centered

  • Seek to balance being "Self-ish" (filling my needs) with helping others fill their needs 

  • See evasion, lying, and liars as "bad," weak, "wrong," and cowardly

  • Compassionately see evasion and lying as a sign the person is scared to tell the truth

      Notice what you/re thinking and feeling now.

      Options: (a) evolve a table like this to help you clarify your most important old and new rules; and (b) invite other important people - including minor or grown) kids - to do this and discuss what results. Expect this to take considerable time, thought, and discussion... 

      As you examine each rule that causes excessive guilt, watch for black/white (absolute or bipolar) thinking. For instance, are stealing or lying always “wrong”? Many personal and social rules are relative, depending on our local inner and outer contexts for "rightness." Some philosophers suggest There are no ‘rights and wrongs- just consequences.”

      Also be alert for widespread rules about rules: "Always honor and respect (i.e. don't disagree or challenge) your Mother and Father / your elders / the Bible / the Law." To become an authentic, self-respecting person, you have to disagree with some of their rules and form your own. Doing this is not "disrespecting" them, it is respecting yourself as an equally-worthy person. Do you agree?

      In defining your rules, it can help to ask "Do I always gain self respect when I act on this rule (should, ought, or must), or am I seeking the approval of someone else?" If you have a zealous People-pleaser like Sharon (and most of us), that subself is relentlessly focused on following other people's rules to avoid conflict and painful disapproval and rejection.

      Living from our own integrity will inevitably cause some other people discomfort. You can minimize this by adopting a mutual-respect attitude, and use the seven Lesson-2 communication skills to invite other people to negotiate acceptable compromises or acceptance of your differences. Success depends on your true Self being free to guide you.

      Option: over time, become an expert on how guilt is intentionally reduced. When you feel guilty, build the reflex of wondering "What am I to learn from this feeling? Have I already learned it?" Tell your Inner Critic what you've learned, and ask that important subself too stop reminding you of your rule-breakings, and activating your Guilty Child!  

      Recall why you're reading this. Then decide if "identify and evaluate important broken rules" makes sense to you. Are you willing to do that now to reduce excessive guilts? If not - why? Is your true Self those questions? If not, who is? 

      When you feel ready to use parts work to reduce your guilts to normal, use the strategy in this article after you finish reading this one.

3) Make Selected Apologies

      The 12-step philosophy helps many people manage (vs. cure) addictions and other compulsions. It's effective because it encourages people to (a) choose self-responsibility; (b) intentionally confront and reduce significant guilt, shame, and anxiety; and (c) make sincere amends (apologize) to people they’ve hurt, where possible and safe.

      Sincere apologies usually help both people reduce hostility, resentment, disrespect, and guilt. Where it doesn’t, look for false selves to be in charge and other relationship problems (like disrespect and distrust) that need resolution.

      Can you clearly define the ingredients of an effective apology? I suggest that they include…

  • freeing your true Self (capital "S") to guide your other personality subselves;

  • coaching your subselves to believe that your needs, rights, opinions, and integrity are just as worthy as any other person’s

  • taking genuine (vs. pretended or strategic) responsibility for your past and present thoughts, values, and actions;

  • identifying specifically how your actions have hurt or hindered other people. This requires awareness and empathy, which some wounded people were never taught;

  • fully experiencing all the emotions related to each such incident, without editing or justifying;

  • (ideally) describing your feelings to the hurt person, with good eye contact, in a way that s/he can hear you, and then…

  • listening respectfully to any responses, without explanation, defense, excuses, or arguing.

      The key is accepting full responsibility for your own thoughts and actions, rather than blaming others, God, or "fate."

      How does this compare to your definition of an effective apology? Have you ever apologized successfully to another person? Remember how that felt to both of you?

      Option: for each adult and child significantly harmed by your attitudes and actions, design a genuine apology for each major hurt, and deliver it when (a) your Self (capital "S") is guiding you and (b) the other person can hear you (is not distracted). Ideally, do this in person. Start by forgiving yourself, and then focus on other people. Applying Lesson-2 communication skills can be a major help here!

      When you apologize, consider an attitude of I am doing this to grow personal and relationship harmony, not to debase myself, submit, or to fill your need. If saying “I’m so sorry that I _______” feels like losing a battle, being "weak," or giving in, refocus on freeing your Self to guide you. Recall: your long-term goal is harmonizing your subselves and reducing significant psychological wounds over time. Reducing excessive guilts is an important part of that process.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you began reading this. Has anything changed for you? What are you learning, so far?

      In addition to reducing excessive old guilts, you can learn to...

colorbutton.gif Minimize New Guilts

      Premise: moderate guilts are useful, because they help us learn from our social "mistakes." Other guilts are unwarranted and/or excessive. They often come from adopting other people's rules and attitudes that you haven't examined and validated. As your learn to reduce old excessive guilts, you can consciously avoid taking on unwarranted new guilts. Consider these options:

      Stay clear on...

  • what a behavioral ''rule'' is,

  • who’s rules you live by (or break),

  • the difference between guilt and shame, and...,

  • how guilt and shame are best managed.

Evolve and use a Personal Bill of Rights to help define your shoulds, oughts, have to's, and cant's (rules).

Periodically review and adjust your version of these key attitudes if useful. Blindly adopting other people's attitudes can foster unnecessary guilts. 

Monitor and coach your Inner Critic, Moralizer/Preacher, and Perfectionist subselves to declare their opinions respectfully, vs. scornfully. Tailor and apply these ideas on giving effective feedback to your subselves and other people. Use parts work to ensure that your subselves live in the present, vs. some traumatic time in your childhood.

Coach yourself to be routinely aware of your (a) breathing, (b) your body, and (c) your current thoughts and emotions. When you feel guilty and/or think guilty thoughts, experiment with these steps:

  • remind yourself that moderate guilt is normal and helpful

  • check to see if your true Self is in charge. If not, freeing your Self to lead is more important than managing guilts and shame

  • Identify (a) what specific rules your subselves feel you've broken (they usually come in clusters), and (b) whether they're your rules or someone else's. If you originated a rule, own your responsibility, review your options, and act. Ambivalence and/or procrastination doing this suggests a false self is making your decisions.

  • If someone else originated a rule you violated, review your Bill of Personal Rights and reassure your subselves that as an adult, you can respectfully disagree with the other person's rules and expectations without judging either of you as being good-bad or right-wrong.

  • If appropriate, respectfully assert your right to disagree with the other person's rules and live by your own. Options:

    • affirm the other person's right to not feel bound to obey your rules;

    • remind yourself of these wise guidelines.

    • evolve skill at recognizing and managing values conflicts effectively; and...

    • if the other person scorns, criticizes, or rejects you for disagreeing with or disobeying their rules, compassionately see them as not knowing they probably have a disabled true Self, rather than "the enemy.".

Steadily develop and use your mutual-respect attitude and your effective communication skills - specially clear thinking,  assertion, and empathic listening. These are your best tools for clarifying, stating, and enforcing your rights, boundaries, and consequences respectfully and firmly. 

      More options to avoid significant new guilts:

Patiently work to reduce excessive fears, shame, and distrusts. They promote conflict-avoidance among your subselves and with other people, dishonesty, timidity, and procrastination. These combine to promote excessive guilt and shame. See these specific parts-work strategies to reduce these wounds.

Stay clear on your roles and responsibilities at home and elsewhere. Calmly define and enforce your boundaries, and respectfully give other people responsibility for themselves. Compassionately expect them to resist, and try to defocus, blame, and/or guilt-trip you. Decline – don’t accept their rules over yours. If they’re open to it, invite them to evaluate whether they’re ruled by a false self, and moderate your People Pleaser's urge to rescue or endure them.

Read this article on codependence to expand your awareness and compassion. This condition causes compulsive over-concern with another person’s welfare, and obeying their rules. If you have codependent traits, you probably need self-motivated recovery from psychological wounds.


  • free your Self to guide and harmonize your other subselves (work at Lesson 1),

  • coach yourself to grow your present-moment awareness.

  • work to convert excessive shame to non-egotistical self-love

  • validate whose rules (shoulds / oughts / musts / have to's / cant's) you broke,

  • apologize to and/or forgive yourself and other people where appropriate,

  • intentionally minimize new guilt feelings (above), and...

  • authorize your subselves to let go.

      Recall why you're reading this, and reflect on what you just read. Would improving your ability to avoid unwarranted new guilts be useful to you? Is there anything in the way of your experimenting with the ideas above and seeing what happens? Is your Self answering that or "someone else"?

      Another facet of "effective guilt management" is learning...

colorbutton.gif About Guilt-trippers and Over-aplogizers

      Two guilt-related social problems you may encounter occur when people...

  • try to use guilt to get you to fill their needs. and/or...

  • constantly apologize because of excessive shame and guilt

Let's look at your options for each of these problems.

Responding to Guilt-trippers

      Have you experienced a guilt-trip recently? They occur when someone implies that you owe them something for some reason - respect, concern, priority, support, resources, time, loyalty, etc. Guilt trips commonly sound like this:

  • "After all I've done for you..."

  • If you really love me, you'd want to _____."

  • "The Scriptures say that you have to..."

  • "I'm your (parent/grandparent/relative) so you have to..."

  • "I thought I could depend on you for _____, but I guess I'm expecting too much."

  • "You never call me. I guess you just don't care."

  • "You say you're my friend, but you never ______ ."

  • "You should be ashamed of yourself!"

  • (add your own examples)

      Some people try to evoke guilt by just rolling their eyes and/or sighing dramatically. Others do so by crying, collapsing, or implying they're going to harm themselves or get sick unless you do something. Whatever the strategy, the person seeks to make you feel responsible for filling one or more of their needs.

      If you give in to a guilt trip (violate your integrity), you're apt to  feel manipulated and resentful, and lose self respect - specially if this is a recurring dynamic.

        The keys to responding effectively to guilt trips are:

  • keep your true Self in charge; ;

  • stay aware of your rights as a worthy person;

  • stay clear that you are not responsible for filling the other person's needs, unless they are a dependent, ..

  • knowing how to assert n your needs and boundaries firmly without apology, aggression, or guilt,

  • Expecting "resistance." Acknowledge it with empathic listening, and then reassert your needs and boundaries calmly and briefly Repeat this cycle as often as needed until you feel heard.

  • knowing how to do win-win problem solving.

      Reflect - can you do these things now? Review these examples of responses to manipulative people when you finish here. Incidentally, do you ever use guilt trips to fill your needs? If so, that suggests that a false self controls you.

Responding to Over-apologizers

      Do you know anyone who is excessively apologetic? If so, how do you feel about them - pity? Impatient? Scorn? Exasperated? Annoyed? How do you usually react?

      People who compulsively apologize are usually shamle-based and fear of criticism and rejection (wounded). They may be unaware of their habit, or feel apologetic about it. Over-apologizing implies ''I'm 1-down'' (inferior) to you, which  invites disrespect, irritation, impatience, and a skewed relationship.


      If you're annoyed by someone's constantly apologizing, you can...

  • endure it, or...

  • hint indirectly ("Gee, you seem to apologize quite often."), or...

  • advise or lecture ("You know you really don't have to apologize so much."), or...

  • complain ("I'm getting real tired of hearing you apologize all the time."), or you can...

  • give feedback in the form of a respectful ''I-message.'' That could sound like...

"Chris, you've apologized about four times now at great length about forgetting to return my book. I understand you feel badly about this - and (not "but") when you keep repeating yourself, I get impatient and irritated, and I tune you out. I need you to stop repeating yourself, so I can stay connected to you." 

      Expect Chris to "resist" - e.g. to apologize about apologizing, say "I'll try," or "I can't help it," or something else. Use empathic listening to validate this, and then re-assert calmly and firmly, with steady eye contact.

      Respectfully confronting a person sending chronic "I'm 1-down" relationship messages can sound like this:

"Chris, when you apologize so wordily and often, chuckle nervously, and have trouble keeping eye contact with me (specific observable behaviors)...

"I get uncomfortable because it feels like you don't respect yourself as much as I do (specific effect on you).

"Are you open to me mentioning these behaviors to you to help you become aware of them and their impacts?"

      For more perspe3ctive and examples, see this after you finish here..

      Pause now, and see if you can summarize the key things you just read about reacting to "guilt-trippers" and over-apologetic people. The theme is - you have options, and don't have to endure being a victim to such wounded people!

      Recall - to react like the examples above, you need (a) your true Self to steadily guide you (Lesson 1), and (b) you need to know how and when to use the seven communication skills in Lesson 2. Can you name them?

colorbutton.gif Recap

      This 2-page Lesson-1 article proposes that you can intentionally reduce excessive and/or chronic guilt to normal levels, once you admit your psychological wounds. The article outlines (a) where guilt comes from, (b) why it can cause major problems in typical relationship and families, and (c) options you can tailor toward reducing your excessive guilt to normal. 

      The article also suggests options for staying centered and asserting your boundaries with people who use "guilt trips" to manipulate you, and with people who feel inferior to you because of excessive guilt and shame.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   

Share/Bookmark   Prior page  /  Lesson 1


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact