Summary: Inappropriate guilt can cause unneeded misery and discouragement. This Bible study gives practical steps you can take to reject inappropriate guilt.

Summary: This Bible study gives practical steps you can take to reject inappropriate guilt.

Reject Inappropriate Guilt

Don’t let inappropriate guilt rob you of joy




Doug Britton, MFT

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Part three of a four-part series on “Overcoming Guilt and Shame”

What is inappropriate guilt?

It’s good to feel guilty when we do something wrong. Guilt can drive us to ask for forgiveness from God and from people we have wronged. It can also motivate us to change our behavior.

There’s another type of guilt that is not healthy. Some people feel guilty when they haven’t done anything wrong. They may constantly question their motives. Or they may be hypersensitive, often sure they said something they shouldn’t have said or certain they disappointed their friends or God when they didn’t. They often apologize for nonexistent offenses. This type of guilt could be called “inappropriate guilt” since there’s nothing to feel guilty about.
Here are some reasons people feel inappropriate guilt:

  • They think they are bad people.
  • They don’t understand that everyone has sinned.
  • They don’t understand God’s love.
  • They don’t understand God’s grace.
  • They don’t understand God’s forgiveness.
  • They have unrealistic expectations, thinking they should never make mistakes.

Related: Don’t think you are “uniquely bad”

Make it personal

1. What does it mean to feel “inappropriate guilt”?

2. Have you ever felt inappropriate guilt? If so, when did you experience it?

3. Is inappropriate guilt a problem in your life now? If so, what do you feel guilty about?

4. Looking at the typical reasons people feel inappropriate guilt, what is one insight that can help you?

Inappropriate guilt can rob you of peace and joy

People who live tormented by inappropriate guilt go through life feeling condemned and miss out on the peace and joy Jesus offers us.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Make it personal

5. How can inappropriate guilt rob you of the peace and joy Jesus offers?

Related: Choose joy

Don’t feel guilty if you have ugly thoughts

Sometimes people feel guilty for having ugly thoughts. For example, if an inappropriate sexual thought comes to your mind, you may become consumed by guilt because you think Christians aren’t supposed to have ugly thoughts.

Having ugly thoughts does not mean you are a bad person or that you are not a Christian. It means you are human being. What’s important is that you resist the thoughts, not entertain them. Pray for freedom from the thoughts, but don’t give in to guilt for having them in the first place. (Of course, if the thoughts come from watching pornography or something else you have done, be sure to deal with that sin.)

What do you think?

6. Do you think anyone goes through life without sometimes having wrong thoughts?

Don’t give in to “superstitious thinking”

Some people experience an extreme type of inappropriate guilt that I’ll call “superstitious thinking.” These are people who feel guilty because they think they caused bad things to happen, things that in fact had nothing to do with them.

For example, if you have a negative thought about someone else, and the next day the other person has a car accident, you might feel guilty, sure that your bad thoughts caused the accident.

Another type of superstitious thinking takes place when people hear a sermon, read the Bible, or hear about a problem on a TV talk show, and think any negative comments are directed at them personally.

Don’t feel guilty if you were raped or abused

An extreme and deeply tragic instance of inappropriate guilt is when people feel responsible, ashamed, or guilty if they were raped or sexually abused.

If this describes you, let me encourage you to never accept sexual abuse or rape as your fault. Even if you think you used poor judgment, don’t blame yourself for what was done to you. No one has the right to rape or molest someone else, regardless of the circumstances.

If you were sexually abused as a child, you may ask yourself, “Why was I abused? Why not someone else? Was it something about me?” There are many possible answers to these questions. For example, you might have been more available at the time, you may have had a gentle personality, or you may have reminded your abuser of someone else.

Regardless of the answer, do not fall into the trap of thinking there is something bad about you, or that you deserved to be abused. You were a victim.

Along the same lines, don’t blame yourself if you didn’t resist. That does not mean you deserved to be raped or abused.

Make it personal

7. What would you say to someone who blames himself or herself for being raped or molested?

Ask for help

It can be hard to identify whether or not you have given in to inappropriate guilt or whether you really have done something wrong. One of the best things you can do is to ask a mature Christian for his or her opinion.

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice. (Proverbs 27:9)

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

Pray about your inappropriate guilt, not imaginary problems

Don’t ask God to forgive you for a non-existent offense. Instead, ask him to help you escape inappropriate guilt.

Related: Trust God, not your emotions

What do you think?

8. If you are feeling inappropriate guilt, what should you do?

9. If you are feeling inappropriate guilt, what shouldn’t you do?

Memory verse

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Personal application

1. Do you think you sometimes suffer from inappropriate guilt? If so, when does this seem to happen?

2. If you feel guilty about something, who could you ask to help you decide whether or not it is inappropriate guilt?

3. How can being consumed by guilt over bad thoughts make it difficult to resist the thoughts?

4. Looking at the typical reasons people feel inappropriate guilt, what is one insight that can help you?

5. If you suffer from inappropriate guilt, write a prayer asking God to set you free.

6. Do you have a friend who seems to have inappropriate guilt? If so, do you think you could encourage your friend by sharing this study?

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Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God’s truths in your daily life. (Visit

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

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