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Guilt - where does it come from? Although it is unpleasant, guilt is a sign of emotional maturity. However, in some cases it is a symptom of a disease. So how do you distinguish the he althy aspects of guilt from the harbingers of disease?

Guilt- who does not feel it sometimes? Even though the feeling is unpleasant, psychologists treat it as a symptom of mental maturity. Mature people should feel guilty when they hurt someone. If it were not, we would become personality disorder psychopaths.


  1. Where does guilt come from?
  2. What is the role of guilt?
  3. When is guilt too high?

Where does guilt come from?

Guilt develops out of fear. Initially, the kids don't do bad things because they're afraid of punishment. Parents express their disapproval, apply sanctions and thus force their children to follow moral principles - "do not lie", "listen to the elders", etc. fear of punishment will soon turn into a voice of conscience. Even if the parent no longer says "don't steal," the child still "hears" the voice. This process can be called social maturation or socialization. It causes that mature people adhere to social norms and want to follow them. If the parents did not apply sanctions, were too indulgent, disinterested in what the child was doing, did not teach the norms or taught them inconsistently (e.g. dad questions mom's opinion or the parent says that you cannot lie and he is lying), they would have raised children who do not follow the standards. These children can do bad things without feeling guilty. This is a disorder called psychopathy. Children brought up by institutions can also become psychopaths - they lack relatives from whom one can and would like to learn good behavior.

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What is the role of guilt?

The feeling of guilt inhibits us from doing evil deeds, but it also has another property - it causes that whenwe do something wrong, we want to be punished for it! Punishment, penance and redress bring relief to conscience. This is why we apologize to someone when we hurt them and why we go to confession. This is why some criminals plead guilty themselves, even when there is no chance of them getting caught. Sometimes guilt makes the villain leave traces at the crime scene, thanks to which the police will be able to detect him.

This is because in our soul the guilt starts autonomously, independent of our will and consciousness. Just by doing bad things, we feel guilty whether we like it or not. Whether or not we felt guilty was determined for us by our upbringing and personality construction. We do not have much influence on it ourselves. Of course, people commit bad deeds and do not seek punishment for it, but remorse will torment them anyway. This will manifest itself in, for example, a sense of loss of mental well-being and more frequent illness. Real relief comes only when we fix the wrong, someone forgives us, or someone we trust convince us that there was nothing wrong with our actions. We usually attribute this power of forgiveness to priests and psychotherapists.

When is guilt too high?

Since the feeling of guilt is often triggered "by itself", and in addition it is based on fear, it can reveal diseases of our psyche. For example, pathological guilt is one of the important symptoms of depression. It is also found in anxiety disorders, low self-esteem and personality disorders. This is well illustrated by the following dialogue between the patient and the therapist:

Therapist:Why do you think that your help in wallpaper your neighbors' kitchen was a despicable deed?

Patient:Because the flower patterns on the adjacent stripes did not come together as they should.

Therapist:How big were these differences?

Patient:About three millimeters.

Therapist:On all belts?

Patient:On two.

Therapist:And how many belts were there in total?


Therapist:Has anyone noticed this?

Patient:No, the neighbor was delighted with the effect. And that's the most despicable thing, I didn't even show him these gaps, I didn't admit that I spoiled his kitchen so bad …

The patient experiences depression and his irrational guilt is a symptom of the disease. We speak of a pathological feeling of guilt if it appears, even if a person did not do anything wrong to anyone, what he did was only a trivial thing, or he thought only of a bad deed, without actually putting it into practice.


How can I free myself from a morbid feeling of guilt?

Psychologists have developed several effective methods of freeing themselves from pathological, irrational guilt.

Cognitive-behavioral therapyis about teaching the patient to recognize logical errors in their own thinking. For example, a depressed person may blame himself for a neighbor's broken leg on a slippery pavement: "I knew the pavement was slippery, I could sprinkle it on something." This misconception called personalization involves taking responsibility for negative events beyond our control.

The anxiety pillsreduce exaggerated guilt because they reduce the anxiety underlying them.

You can also learn to reduce anxietywith psychological methods- eg through relaxation training, self-affirmation and transcendental meditation (calming down and "clearing the mind"). These treatments bring even better results than tablets, because they prevent recurrence of pathological guilt, which often occurs after discontinuation of medications.

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