Habit #3: Keep Your Conscience Clear

Habit of the Mind - Dr. Archibald D. Hart

Habit #3
Keep Your Conscience Clear

“Conscience can take us by the hand and lead us to God.”

“Conscience is rarely consistent or rational.”

“No one in his right mind should want to live without a conscience. In fact, there is a name for them and they are called ‘sociopaths’.”

True Guilt vs False Guilt

“True guilt seeks to put things right.” For example, true guilt manifests itself if you hurt someone, violated their rights, and you need to take responsibility for your actions. This is true guilt. False guilt is what we feel when no actual violation has occurred, but it is imagined or when we exaggerate a petty mistake we’ve made, or when we refuse to forgive ourselves even though we have been forgiven.

When Guilt Distorts

Even as I write this, I am questioning how this habit will be received by my non-Christians readers. I am questioning my right to give a report on this topic using Bible quotes and Christian ethics. Nevertheless, in 1 Peter 3:16 I am reminded to “keep a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” My conviction in my belief and faith in Christ is closely connected to my conscience.

This verse in 1 Timothy foretold what we are experiencing today.

1 Timothy 4:1-2 “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teaching come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with hot iron.”

There is clearly a connection between God’s conviction and our conscience. Hebrews 10:22…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

Distorted False Guilt

We always hear the saying, “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide.” According to Dr. Hart, that may not be necessarily a good thing to do. A false guilty conscience can lead to distress, depression, and even suicide. We may feel guilt when someone snubs us, leaving us wondering what ‘we’ did wrong. We get these guilty nagging negative thoughts when we do not call our parents or we do not give our children things they want and do not necessarily need.

To have clear conscience, we must learn to recognize healthy, true guilt and apply the right remedy. Sometimes the remedy calls for a simple apology or a confession that you did something wrong even if no one witnessed it.

How to Tell True from False Guilt

The feeling of guilt must be linked to a real, and not imagined, violation.

“Only real guilt can be forgiven.”

I bumped into a cabinet at a friend’s home and knocked over a curio. It fell to the floor and broke. I felt awful. I apologized and offered to replace it. I was forgiven for my carelessness.

The feeling of guilt must be appropriately proportioned to the violation.

“The seriousness of the guilt must always match the seriousness of the violation.”

If I carelessly bump into a cabinet at a friend’s home and a favorite curio or statuette falls and breaks. I feel sorrow and guilt about my carelessness. I apologize and I offer to replace it. The individual accepts my apology. If I continue to feel guilty and I continue to lose sleep over my carelessness, then I am operating under false guilt.

A young woman as a child was molested repeatedly by a family member. When she becomes of age or at a place in her life where she is able to tell someone, the response she receives is, “Why didn’t you tell me? Or Somebody?” This type of response causes false guilt. The young woman now blames herself for the molestation instead of the abuser.

The self-inflicted punishment does not match the crime.

Healing False Guilt

“When we are forgiven by God or someone else, we should be released from guilt feelings.”

Nevertheless, even when we are forgiven it is a challenge to get rid of the negative voices we hear in our mind. As a counselor, I pass on a practice that helps trick the mind to forget or get rid of the negative thought. As soon I recognize a negative thought entering my mind, I place my forefinger and middle on my forehead between my eyes, tap and say, “Cancel, Cancel.”

It works for me, and I have been given feedback by my clients, it worked for them.

Habit # 3-Having A Clear Conscience is a hard habit to truly understand and get a handle on. Yet, it is very clear to me, that having a healthy mind requires having a clear conscience. If not clear at all times, we need to understand and learn tools and methods to help adjust our thoughts and feelings about ourselves.

Next: How the Ten Habits Fit Together: Habit 4: Don’t Punish Yourself
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