Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide?

April 5, 2011 Becky Oberg

I love good food. I'm usually willing to try anything once, even if my friends and family are hesitant--as seen in the incident with the durian (short version: opening the hedgehog-shaped fruit involved an axe). Recently, I wondered if my appreciation for food had crossed the line into gluttony. I decided that since I was wondering this, it had.

The truth was somewhat more complicated. For some people with borderline personality disorder(BPD), conscience is not always a reliable guide.


The reality of a rational explanation

My therapist pointed out two things that I'd failed to take into consideration.

First, my EBT (Food Stamps) budget was recently cut to $90 a month. This comes out to $3 per day. It is difficult to eat adequate, nourishing food on this budget. Since food is a basic human need--one that was being threatened--it was logical that I was concerned about how far I could stretch my Food Stamps.

Second, due to a combination of poor judgment and lack of funds, I was hungry. My stomach was growling frequently--a sign that my hunger wasn't all in my head. Simply put, I needed food--that was why it was demanding my attention.

Feeling guilty vs. being guilty

In the book 12 "Christian" Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy, authors Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend identify several false assumptions. The ninth one is "Guilt and shame are good for me."

Why is this false? "The problem is we can feel guilty without actually being guilty," they write (emphasis in original). In other words, there's a big difference between remorse, or regret of wrongdoing, and false guilt, which is a flaming arrow in the hands of a master manipulator.

An example is my ex-fiance. I caught him cheating and broke off the engagement. A few days later, he called me to tell me he'd overdosed on Prozac and had been hospitalized. I said nothing. Disgusted, he snarled "Well, obviously you don't want to talk to me," and hung up.

It was a blatant attempt to make me feel guilty, believe I was responsible for his suicide attempt and take him back and try to make it up to him. Thankfully, it didn't work. However, even if it had, my feeling guilty would not make me guilty. He made his choice; I did not make it for him.

As Cloud and Townsend observe, feeling guilty causes us to judge, condemn, and punish ourselves. In schema therapy, this abusive internal authority figure is called the "Punitive Parent". This judgmental figure is an incredible danger to people with BPD.

Facing the Punitive Parent

There are different ways to confront the Punitive Parent's false guilt, and each person has to find what works for him or her. Personally, I like to use logic. I argue that if I can control another person's actions and responses, BPD is the least of my problems.

It's not always easy to accept--I sometimes blame myself for things I have no control over-but accepting it in the head is the first step to accepting it in the heart.

Another way to fight back is by using humor to portray the Punitive Parent as it is. During a group therapy session, five of us drew--on one life-size sheet of paper--our images of the Punitive Parent. I added claws and fangs--metaphorically true, and it looks absurd on school art class paper. When I think of that image, it's harder to take the Punitive Parent seriously.

That doesn't mean I don't sometimes lapse into that mindset. It does mean that I have a tool to fight back with. Recognizing the Punitive Parent is key to defeating it--and in turn, finding victory over the false guilt triggering BPD symptoms.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2011, April 5). Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Becky Oberg

Dr Musli Ferati
April, 20 2011 at 10:59 pm

Psychological life is consist from conscious and unconscious part of a dynamic integrity to psychic functions. Between these is spread the subconcious, which greatly moderate our feelings and determinate our life activity. In mentally health person the relation among these part of psychic apparatus is in interplay that enable us to function adjustable in emotional and spiritual plan. Where this balance in somewhat manner is demolished, then respective person will suffer of any psychological disorder, with many problems in oneself social and professional engagements. If in this joint act of the constitutive part of psychological integrity dominate conscious part of our psychological life then we should be rigid and rough individual, like a robot. Therefore, it must release our feeling and lusts to discharge. Otherwise those would damaged our well-being, particularly they could poison our body. Besides this, through emotional and instinctive realm we could be happy and satisfactory in daily life. Conscious part guides our life activity, but our subconscious embellish and humanize it.

April, 5 2011 at 8:48 am

those are borderline thought distortions, you still have a conscience and it's perfectly reliable, those instincts are usually good, it's the thoughts and reactions you have to them that can be off, and those can be relatively easily fixed. lack of conscience is the stuff of sociopaths..

Anne Oberg
April, 5 2011 at 6:44 am

Very good article; and it's not just people with BPD that struggle with this. Many people do. You are lucky you've figured it out!

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