Guilt—Appropriate and Inappropriate


Feeling guilty is ubiquitous.

You feel it in small ways and big ones.

I was recently with some friends who were trying to decide on a restaurant for dinner.  One of the women said she didn’t like Greek food, and naturally her preference organized us.  We didn’t go to a Greek restaurant.  Once we were all sitting at the table of an Italian restaurant, she announced how guilty she felt.

Maybe she had stepped on someone’s toes?  Maybe somebody wanted to go Greek?  Did she have a right to organize the group?  Of course this group of great women reassured her that we were all happy to have accommodated to her preference.

Her guilt falls in the category of INAPPROPRIATE GUILT.  Had she announced that last night she had a little too much to drink, scraped the side of her car, and felt guilty, her guilt would have been APPROPRIATE GUILT.

What’s the difference?

Guilt is always a sign that some rule, value, guideline, or belief has been violated.


When I asked my friend what rule or value she had transgressed, she said she had grown up with the idea that she should always consider other people’s feelings before her own.  I wondered out loud if she had signed up for that rule?  Did she believe that she was supposed to be oriented in that way?  Was she not supposed to take note of her own preferences, desires, or needs?  Naturally she knew that this was not the case, but having grown up with a sister who had special needs, it was easy to understand how she came into ownership of this rule.

I am not a big fan of individuals who are “all about me.”  Self care doesn’t mean being a narcissist or trampling on other people’s needs and desires. But representing your own wishes, desires, values, and needs–if you don’t do it, who will?

Guilt has  a huge value for individual psychology.  The bad feeling has a purpose–to keep us from repeating something that transgresses important values.  It’s like a signal that says:  Something’s wrong here.  It is always worth paying attention to it, taking note.  Ah, I feel guilty.  Then it’s important to reflect on the transgression–what rule did I break?

Guilt will get your attention, and in that way can be helpful getting you to understand what rules organize you. If you ask yourself each time you feel guilty–what’s the rule?–when you reflect, you can figure out if they are rules you actually want to embrace, or are they rules that someone else imposed on you?  In small appropriate doses, guilt keeps you honest and on the right track.  Overdone, it erodes your spirit.

Color in Dreams–White


Over many years of working with others’ and my own dreams I’ve observed that occasionally an object appears in a dream that normally is another color, but in the dream, it is white.

White Wolf

I had been working for a long time with an anorexic young woman.  Shortly before she had a breakthrough that preceded her beginning to eat more normally, she dreamed that she was visited by a white wolf.

The wolf is often imagined as an animal with a voracious appetite–hungry as a wolf.  In this dream it showed up, not in its more familiar color, gray or black, but entirely white.  The dream announced the soon-to-be arrival of the young woman’s healthy appetite.

White Mary Janes

Another client who had had a terribly abused childhood, including sexual abuse,  dreamed one day that her child self was walking down the street in her familiar Mary Jane shoes, but instead of being black patent leather, the shoes she wore were white–the color brides wear indicative of purity.

Two white irises

Two white irises appeared in my own dream after I made an important decision.  I struggled with a conflict about ending an important relationship.  Finally I came to a decision to end the relationship and the night after I delivered my decision, the two white irises graced my dream.  Iris was the messenger goddess in the Greek pantheon who navigated between the divine and human realms.  She was associated with the rainbow, and represented a similar meaning as the rainbow–a sign of God’s promise to Noah.  The two white irises confirmed that the decision I had made was aligned with a deep soulful part of myself. The white irises represented a promise of hope.

In addition to the irises appearing white (the more familiar color is purple) this dream depicted them as doubles–a sign of an energy brewing in the unconscious, not yet fully realized by the awake, conscious self. At that time for me, it was optimism–at the time I was nervous, fearful, and worried whether I was making the right decision, but once made, the dream reassured me, just like the rainbow, that sunny days were ahead. For more on doubling in dreams see my post on twins, pairs, twosomes and duos in dreams.

White adds a spiritual, soul dimension to a dream image.  Not only does it highlight the importance of the image, it tells the dreamer that the message of the dream has a spiritual dimension.  For the anorexic woman, beginning to eat was a holy act–her hunger was not only related to her body, it was related to her soul. When she began to eat again, she was choosing life. For the woman who had the abused childhood, revisiting her childhood and finding a “white” standpoint, pure, naive, virginal, was deeply transformational and healing.  She could claim the holiness of childhood that had been denied her by  the abuser. And for me, finding hope out of confusion and conflict was not only a matter of the single decision I had made.  Through the image, the dream  restored a sense of faith and trust in myself.

Twins, Pairs, Twosomes,and Duos in Dreams


Sometimes images appear in a double form. They may be very distinct, like twins, or a pair of birds, or cars double parked, or two robbers who are trying to break into the house, or two carrots embracing one another.

A pair of carrots embrace!
Two carrot embrace!

Or the twosome may be less obvious—like two crayons, a yellow one and a red one, or a dress and a pair of shoes, both in the same color. I have noticed over the years, that a twosome appearing in a dream often announces a new energy about to manifest. For example, a woman dreamed,

Two moving vans are pulling up to my house.

She had been stuck for a long time in a job that she didn’t like, but couldn’t figure out how to make a change in the situation. In the dream she was surprised and had a positive feeling about the arrival of the vans. If you think about moving vans, they are vehicles for transporting large, heavy loads, entire households. This woman’s capacity to hold and move with big issues was announced by the dream.


—–Keep an eye out for these twosomes when they appear in your dreams.