Why You're Stuck in Bad Guilt

by Suzanne Grosser

Guilt plagues people with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But now, you have the opportunity to choose your future. In the choice between good and bad guilt, you might as well choose the one that creates the future you want. People with PTSD almost always have too much of the bad kind, and we are afraid of the good kind.


Here’s some reasons why:

We are out of touch with how we feel. We are numb, not only to our emotions, but to our physical body as well. We had to be, to survive our trauma. But now, the very thing that helped us survive, is ruining our life. We don’t feel that twisting in our gut. We don’t notice that we are grinding our teeth, clenching our jaw, and our shoulders are rock hard with tension. All those are messages from our body saying something is wrong. All are warning sirens that we are choosing more than our share of the blame. But we don’t hear the warning.

We withdraw from relationships. We don’t open ourselves to others, so we will never be hurt again. Trauma is painful. We are trying to protect ourselves. It works, sort of. It just costs an awful lot. We don’t get to feel the love offered to us. While we don’t ever have to admit to being wrong, we never experience the joy of being forgiven. And we never release our self-blame. We never forgive ourselves. Without forgiveness, it festers inside.

We are confused. For many of us it is hard to sort out what really happened to us. Most traumas, but especially assault, domestic violence, and war are tumultuous. They happen fast, with so many twists and turns and no time to think. Afterwards we try to sort it out, but it is sometimes impossible to do. So we grab all the blame, or none of it, when the truth is somewhere between.

We fail. We let ourselves and others down, so we berate ourselves. We heap blame where we should accept our failure simply means we are human.

We can not fix what we have done. Under the stress of trauma, most of us did things we are ashamed to admit. We get sucked into bad guilt because so often it is impossible to truly make amends or even to apologize to those people we have wronged. They are too far removed in time or in location to touch.

We believe the wrongs we committed are too horrible to be forgiven. An apology seems a poor offering in the face of the pain we caused. Perhaps. But when that becomes our excuse for not doing anything, we have chosen thewrong kind of guilt.

Wallowing in misplaced blame keeps you from taking the actions that true justice demands of you. It is easier, of course, to feel bad about yourself than to risk the disdain of others by admitting your weaknesses. It takes courage to stop whining about your past and step forward into your future. But if you don’t take that first step, what future will you have?

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