The Emotion of Guilt (Part 3 of 3 – The “TRUTH” Tool)

“…But when He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all Truth” – John 16:12 (TNIV)

“You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free” – John 8:32 (TNIV)

Thank you for reading “The Emotion of Guilt” (Part 1 of 3 and Part 2 of 3).

In this post, I would like to suggest a problem-solving strategy to spiritually and psychologically “reset” your mind when your thinking gets “grounded by the guilts” and subsequently any other unwanted or unrelated negative emotion connected to your life experience.

As we observed in “…Guilt, Part 2 of 3,” God does not use toxic guilt nor toxic shame in His encounters with us as He helps us to gain insight and understanding regarding what choices we need to make or, with behavior(s) we may need to consider changing for our betterment. He simply does not work this way; that is outside of His character.

On the other hand, what we can learn from the two scriptures listed above is that God does use Truth to enlighten and guide us in making healthier decisions, especially when we get emotionally flooded with toxic levels of guilt, shame or other negative emotions, which only serve to complicate or contaminate our clearer thinking and decision-making process.

That is why Knowing the Truth is so important to God, because He wants us to be able to recognize how any of our thoughts could quickly derail into “automatic negative thoughts.” If left unchecked, the negative thoughts could lead to negative emotions (like toxic guilt or shame), which could catapult us into guilt or shame spirals, unwanted and unhealthy behavior(s) and ultimately, further away from anything resembling His Truth.

So use this tool to examine then correct any thinking that is intrusive, negative and threatens to interrupt your personal growth. I have included an example of how my thoughts became negative and quickly produced unhealthy emotions after being invited to speak at a college chapel service.  Finally, as you go forward, keep this simple question in mind: “But what is the “T – R – U – T – H?”

More than likely, any negative thinking starts with thoughts, or trigger thoughts to be more exact…

The “T – R – U – T – H” Tool

T:   Trigger thoughts: Trigger thoughts are intrusive ideas we experience that seem to “come out of nowhere” and cause us to look at a life experience in which we are currently involved in “a different light.”  These thoughts knock us off-balance spiritually, psychologically and emotionally because we begin to view our ourselves and/or our experience from a negative or overly critical perspective almost immediately.

As an example, when I was asked to speak at a Chapel service at a college I graduated from, I initially felt honored to do so, but then a trigger thought I had was “You’re not smart enough to speak to this crowd, what can you possibly speak about that would inspire them?  They are going to judge you and see how little you really know. You’d better make it perfect, or you’re doomed!”  It is amazing how something so positive could quickly derail into some form of negative and belittling thinking about myself and a wonderful opportunity! Where did these “automatic” and negative thoughts come from?

Question(s) for your consideration/please record your responses: What trigger thoughts have you been having?  Is there a pattern to their appearance in your life? How do you see yourself when you have them?

What usually follows trigger thoughts is the “Wrong Thinking and Unrelated Wrong Feelings” associated with our misinterpretation of reality…

R:  “Wrong Thinking/Wrong Feelings”: Negative or critical thoughts about ourselves tends to ignite negative or disparaging feelings about ourselves or the situation we are involved in almost instantaneously. Often the negative thinking is fueled by voices from our “life script,” which is simply a new rendition of the old message of “I’m not ok, but you are ok.”

These devaluing self-messages stymie our progress because any negative message we tell ourselves that devalues who we are as human beings and discounts our potential as humans is a “shame attack” against ourselves.  Shame attacks will determine how we see ourselves (ineffectual, deficient, helpless), how we feel about ourselves (disempowered, stupid, incompetent) and more than likely, how successful we think we will be with overcoming the situation at hand (failure, stunted, paralyzed).  I can tell you that some, if not most of these thoughts and feelings were swirling around my head as I considered the speaking opportunity, which determined what (behavior) I did next.

Question(s) for your consideration/please record your responses: What feelings did you identify having following the trigger thought(s) about your situation?  Were they linked to any life script, family rules or family roles that you were “programmed” to live by?  What were they?

What usually follows the “Wrong Thinking/Wrong Feelings” is the Unhealthy Response(s)…

U:  Unhealthy Response: No one wants to feel toxic guilt, toxic shame, incapacitating fear or situation depression connected to negative thinking and negative feelings. For some of us, when we get grounded by a case of the guilts or shame, we tend to explore behaviors that will interrupt the negative “error messages” connected to our shame attack, no matter how big or small the situation is that triggered the attack.

What tends to occur is when we are feeling the unwanted emotions, our brain reminds us of the survival tactics or coping mechanisms that we used to employ to get though previous uncomfortable life experiences. The problem though is that some of these behaviors were not positive, nor did they correct, amend or adequately solve/resolve our problem.

What I’ve found is that faulty thinking begets faulty solutions which is where “gratifying behavior” is sought to block or stop the internal shame message that I wish I did not tell myself. The immediately gratifying behavior could involve eating, drinking, spending, doing too much (workaholism), doing too little (procrastination) or anything to create some form of a pick me up (false empowerment) that is nowhere connected to the original healthy experience of being asked to speak at a Chapel.  How did I derail to this place so quickly?

Question(s) for your consideration/please record your responses: Were you tempted to employ some unhealthy, “mood altering” or addictive behavior to block or escape the negative thoughts and feelings ignited by the trigger thought?  What were they?  Did you employ any healthy behaviors as you sought to come to your own assistance?  What did you do? 

Thankfully, God loves us too much than to let us stay in any unhealthy place of self-recrimination, especially if we have done nothing more than experience a trigger thought that sent us cascading down into a shame spiral.  He does this by reminding us of the TRUTH.

T: TRUTH! (“…but what is the TRUTH?“):  Regardless of our experience, when we ask ourselves “but what is the Truth” we give ourselves the opportunity to disengage from negative thinking and engage in a process that helps us to hear God, who would love for us to think clearer, feel calmer and act differently.  The Truth also provides real insight about how we see ourselves or our circumstance.  When we are able to integrate the truth about ourselves and our situation we tend to feel calmer, which places us closer to self-acceptance (versus beating ourselves up) and moves us closer to feeling less anxious, and maybe even some form of peace and/or serenity about ourselves and the situation.  These positive changes with our thoughts and feelings guide us to act differently, which usually means employing healthier behaviors, toward self and others. Yes, embracing the Truth, God’s Truth will hopefully lead us to loving ourselves and loving others appropriately.

For me, this process of embracing Truth usually involves remembering a scripture that reminds me of who I am in Christ and/or thinking about an alternative or exception to the trigger thought that derailed me in the first place.  The new thought has Truth in it about myself or my situation which helps me to challenge the lie that the Enemy wants me to believe about myself or the circumstance at hand.

Like we read in King David’s experience in Part 2, God may speak or reveal this Truth to us through our conscience, or a song, a poem, a book, a friend or through any person or means that helps us to realize we are not alone, that we are precious in God’s sight and that God has our best interests in mind, which is to love us in all of our humanity.  Remembering this Truth helped me to silence the negative scripts/tapes that were fired up within me and in the calmer moments created by focusing on God’s truth I was able to feel better and focus on the healthier next steps that I needed to take.

Question(s) for your consideration/please record your responses: What is the Truth about yourself or your situation that God would like for you to hear, recall, remember and maybe pronounce?  Are there any scriptures or positive people/thoughts that help you to challenge the automatic negative thoughts, negative feelings you may be having?  What are they?  Will you create a plan of interaction with those processes so that you think, feel and act differently?

So remembering the TRUTH about your situation, who you are, His purpose for you and the outcome that He wants you to experience usually leads toward healthier responses

H: Healthy Response!

Healthier responses, whether it is our thinking, feeling or behavior tends to occur when we remember any truth about ourselves or our situation that affirms our worth as a person. Toxic guilt or shame tears us down; Healthy guilt tends to be self-messages we hear from God via our conscience that is lovingly given to lead, guide, inspire and direct our next steps with how we treat ourselves and others.  If we are able to “fine tune” our listening abilities with God, more than likely we will hear the answers to our predicament also.

At times, when people are down on themselves, I may suggest that they create a list of positive affirmations to help them remember who they are and what they have achieved in this “new micro season” of their life.  Remembering any positive changes that we have experienced in our lives points to the development of new life scripts that we have co-created with God and is an indication that we are learning how to live with His guidance.

Question(s) for your consideration/please record your responses: What is the positive and truthful message you think God wants you to hear in this micro-season of your life, to counter the automatic negative thought(s)? What are some positive affirmations that remind you God is with you and will partner with you to overcome any recent or new challenge in your life? What truth about God do I need to remind myself about Him and his purposes so that I achieve different and healthier outcomes in my life?

Remember the T-R-U-T-H!

Thanks for visiting and please visit the other blogs written by Dr Ken McGill: Dr Ken McGill’s blog and “3-2-5-4-24” for additional information that could be helpful. I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.


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