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GUILT

I have done wrong


DEFINITION

Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse.

In psychology and ordinary language, guilt is an affective state in which one experiences conflict at having done something one believes one should not have done. It gives rise to a feeling that does not go away easily, driven by conscience. Freud described this as the result of a struggle between the id (instinctive desires) and the superego (parental imprinting). Guilt and its causes, merits, and demerits is a common theme in psychology and psychiatry.

Guilt is often associated with:

  • Self-blame
  • self-hatred
  • self-resentment
  • Self-condemnation
  • fear and anxiety of possible discovery and consequences
  • punishment (internally or externally)
  • depression

CAUSES OF GUILT
SOCIAL CONTROL

Some thinkers have theorized that guilt is used as a tool of social control. Since guilty people feel they are undeserving, they are less likely to assert their rights and prerogatives. Thus, those in power seek to cultivate a sense of guilt among the populace, in order to make them more tractable. This was a theme in Eric Hoffer's The True Believer. Ayn Rand claimed that Christian sexual morality served a similar purpose.

SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
Some evolutionary psychologists have said that guilt is a rational human emotion selected by evolution. If a person feels guilty when he harms another or even fails to reciprocate kindness, he is more likely not to harm others or become too selfish; in this way, he reduces the chances of retaliation by members of his tribe and thereby increases his survival prospects, and those of the tribe. As with any other emotion, guilt can be manipulated to control or influence others.

SOCIAL LAW
Another common notion is that guilt is assigned by social processes such as a jury trial, i.e. that it is a strictly legal concept. Thus the ruling of a jury that O. J. Simpson or Julius Rosenberg was "guilty" or "not guilty" is taken as an actual judgement by the whole society that they must act as if they were so. By corollary, the ruling that such a person is "not guilty" may not be so taken, due to the asymmetry that assumes one is innocent until proven guilty and prefers to take the risk of freeing a guilty party over convicting innocents.

MORALITY

Still others -- often, but not always, theists of one type or another -- believe that the origin of guilt comes from violating universal principles of right and wrong. In most instances, people who believe this also acknowledge that, even though there is proper guilt from doing 'wrong' instead of doing 'right,' people endure all sorts of guilty feelings that don't stem from violating universal moral principles.


TREATMENT

Guilt can sometimes be remedied by punishment (a common action and advised or required in many legal and moral codes), by forgiveness (as in transformative justice), or by sincere remorse (as with confession in Catholicism or restorative justice). Some people argue that if you feel remorse, or a desire for remorse, then you are showing you are better than your act.


Psychopathology: People lacking all sense of guilt

Psychopaths typically exhibit a "lack of remorse or guilt" in the face of wrongdoing. This is part of their deficient moral reasoning and inability to develop emotional bonds with other people.


The healthy guilt response

When we feel that we have done something wrong then there is a natural initial reaction of feeling bad, rotten, terrible, self-resentment, and self-loathing. This naturally lasts until we begin to be able to think and consider what we have done, how much we are responsible for the behaviour, how much we have harmed others, what are the likely consequences, and what we can do to make matters better.

The neurotic guilt response

Problems occur that may need external help when we get stuck at the feeling stage and cannot move on to the thinking stage. If we get stuck in the feeling stage past its healthy duration, then we need to naturally calm down and relax the body so that our mind can move out of "fight and flight mode" - where it is impossible to think clearly - and into a less emotionally charged state where the thinking areas of the brain can begin to work properly.

Relaxation breathing technique is a guaranteed way to calm the "fight and flight" response, and force the body and mind to relax.

It is NOT ADVISABLE to use alcohol as an attempt to block guilty feelings or as a method to try to calm and relax the mind. Drinking alcohol when we are feeling guilty generally makes matters worse and can lead to depression and harmful behaviour (to self and/or to others)


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