A feeling of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong.
In Latin, “culpa” means guilt. You may have heard the term “mea culpa” (my fault).
Guilt can be an emotion that comes and goes, or stays based on when someone feels like they have (accurately or not) compromised their own standards of conduct.
Guilt can give rise to a feeling which doesn’t always go away easily and is driven by our conscience.
Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, described guilt as the result of a struggle between the ego and the superego.
Superego is the internalisation of cultural or traditional rules often taught by our parents and the ego.
RIGHT OR WRONG
To some extent it would be our elders, parents, mentors, teachers and eventually our own conscience that plant seeds of ‘good and bad’ and ‘right or wrong’ in our minds. We are taught a lot of things when we are young and while growing up. These concepts could be influenced by cultural, societal, generational, familial factors and more.
As adults, our own interpretations of these teachings lead us to apply the learnings to our lives and decisions.
It’s estimated that an average adult makes about 35,000 semi-conscious decisions every day (Source: UNCTV).
Most of these (small decisions) will be based on automated responses by our subconscious, but some of the bigger decisions could require more thinking, weighing up of factors and perhaps having to tap into our belief systems, values, situation analysis, past experiences and more.
Sometimes we make bad decisions, which by the way are retrospective, as I don’t think most of us do things when we think it’s a bad idea.
When we’ve done something and the result is good: “well done for being brave”; if the result is bad: “why am I so stupid, what was I thinking?”. These may be a familiar chatter in our heads, with many of us having tendencies to find accountability for events, and if these are negative ones, feeling like blaming someone, something or even ourselves.
We must remember that although we are often advised to go with our ‘gut feel’ when making tough choices, our brains, hearts and guts can all make miscalculations.
There’s something called ‘false guilt’ which is an idea that what you feel must be true. If you feel guilty, you must be guilty.
Sometimes we feel guilt because we should have done something differently or not done something, but maybe in someone else’s eyes it wasn’t that bad or it was the right thing to do etc. It’s all very subjective.
Some of us can feel anxious when our feelings of guilt become overwhelming.
Others could try to reduce their guilt by blaming others, or even sharing their guilt with people who have similar experiences to feel better.
Those who have high levels of psychopathy lack a sense of guilt or moral reasoning for any damage they may have caused others and they could justify their actions. However such people are less likely to develop deep emotional connections with others.
SHAME VS GUILT
Ruth Benedict, a cultural anthropologist described shame as the result of a violation of cultural or social values, often projected on someone by others.
Guilt on the other hand is an internal creation when someone’s own morals are violated.
Therefore shame comes from a negative perception from others and guilt comes from one’s own thoughts or actions.
Feeling guilt is very normal and makes most of us more human.
Many of us have empathy for others and guilt often helps us make sure we don’t intentional wrong others.
If we have done wrong to others or ourselves, it’s important to train our minds to forgive, to learn from the past and not to dwell on the guilt or let it grow. After all, we are imperfect and we make mistakes.