Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Literature on Guilt—Part IV

This is the fourth in a four-part series of articles on the literature on guilt. Please read the first three before reading this one.

To continue…

Clinical Aspects

On a more clinical level, guilt has many correlates with mental illnesses. Anxiety is associated with major depression in about seventy-five percent of cases, and guilt, being a form of anxiety, often is how anxiety presents. In these “biological” or endogenous cases, guilt is a secondary symptom of a primary mental illness. While there may be many guilt-like phenomena (negative thinking, self-deprecating comments), these generally improve when the depression is lifted. In these cases the treatment is not primarily to reduce guilt; rather, to lift the depression, often using medication, cognitive behavior therapy or a combination of both. When the depression resolves, guilt usually subsides.
Major depression is not the only mental illness associated with guilt. Guilt can co-exist with bipolar disorder, addictions, poor self esteem and primary anxiety disorders such as panic attack, phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Guilt is often associated with difficult life decisions that may precipitate more minor forms of mental illness, like initiating a divorce or moving a family to accommodate a better job. These latter cases are referred to as Adjustment Disorders—normal though potentially life stressing events.
There also is the absence of guilt, which is not normally considered in ebooks on guilt. This condition is thought to be found in psychopaths, who in common parlance lack any true sense of guilt or remorse for harm they may have caused others. Instead, they rationalize their behavior, blame someone else, or outright deny their behavior or its consequences.

“I don't feel guilt. Whatever I wish to do, I do.”--Jeanne Moreau

This is seen by psychologists as a failure to develop moral reasoning, an inability to evaluate situations in a moral framework, and an inability to develop empathy and to subsequently emotionally bond with other people. However, there is a rival theory of psychopathy in the developmental literature. My early training in this area suggested that antisocial personalities (the new name for psychopaths) actually are quite sensitive to other’s feelings; in fact, they may be so sensitive they cannot integrate their feelings into their also equally poorly formed ego-identity. This overload “causes” psychopaths to act selfishly in defense of their fragility, violating the rights of others in the service of self-preservation. This implies the sociopath also suffers from underlying narcissism. Regardless, on the surface, antisocial personalities are to be avoided because surely they will take advantage of someone. They will not appear to be impacted, i.e., to feel guilt.

-Dr. Griggs

The Literature on Guilt—Part III

This is the third in a four-part series of articles on the literature on guilt. Please read the first two articles before reading this one.

To continue…

In this case Shame is to Guilt what Sociology is to Psychology; that is, the bigger, more social version of the smaller individual experience. Shame also suggests moral decrepitude whereas guilt suggests either error in judgment or some form of misdeed. The latter also highlights etiquette over ethics, i.e., focusing on behavior rather than principle, though in reality, it may impossible to totally separate the two. Shame seems to use poor self-esteem to amplify the effect of guilt. Others emphasize social feedback as one crucial factor in differentiating guilt and shame. Here is a quote from someone who sees the distinction in another light, altogether.

“Shame is closely related to guilt, but there is a key qualitative difference. No audience is needed for feelings of guilt, no one else need know, for the guilty person is his own judge. Not so for shame. The humiliation of shame requires disapproval or ridicule by others. If no one ever learns of a misdeed there will be no shame, but there still might be guilt. Of course, there may be both. The distinction between shame and guilt is very important, since these two emotions may tear a person in opposite directions. The wish to relieve guilt may motivate a confession, but the wish to avoid the humiliation of shame may prevent it.”--Paul Ekman

Guilt can result from errors committed by normal or healthy people; whereas, shame results from personal or group intrapersonal deficit, possibly also because of a faulty act, but not necessarily. For example, original sin is the result of birth status, not deed. However, there can be shame just as much in individuals. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous will frequently tout shame as their core personality experience when attending “AA” meetings. They frequently talk of always recovering, never being recovered because they are internally flawed, in this case by “character defects.” This is shame experienced individually, even though brought to the surface by a group. In short, shame seems to add the dimension of personal grieving for the loss of a bigger, deeper ideal (flaws in the sense of self or integration of aspects of self); whereas, guilt usually is more specific to action, not state (but again, not always).
Additionally, the social consequences of "getting caught" are seen as more important than the individual feelings or experiences of the agent. The Latin word for guilt is culpa, a word sometimes seen in law literature, for instance in mea culpa meaning "my fault (guilt)," again, referring to the smaller, not the larger experience.

Lastly, an individual has to believe the actions caused by the ingroup were unjustifiable, indefensible and unforgivable. If an individual can justify the actions of the ingroup, this will lessen collective guilt. Only when an individual views the ingroup actions as reprehensible will that individual feel collective guilt.

“Where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”--Hanna Arendt

Collective guilt is not only a result of feeling empathy for the outgroup, it can also be caused by self-conscious emotion that stems from questioning of the morality of the ingroup. The opposite is also true. If the actions of the ingroup are just, particularly if paired with equally reprehensible actions of the outgroup, then no collective guilt occurs, despite the possibly egregious acts the former perpetrates upon the latter. Witness the actions of so many righteous “warriors of religion” during the four, maybe five Crusades (depending upon which source is consulted). And, don’t forget what the Nazis did during the Holocaust, etc. (An indirect term sometimes used to express guilt is “denazification;” meaning, to rid the influence of the Nazis.) In each case thousands, even millions of lives were lost in the name of some higher value “exclusively owned” by the perpetrators.
-Dr. Griggs

The Literature on Guilt--Part II

This is the second of a four-part series or articles on the literature on guilt. Please read the first article before reading this one.

To continue…

Social Processes

Guilt often is assigned by social processes, such as a jury trial. In this case, it is more of a legal concept. Thus, the rulings of a jury that O.J. Simpson or Julius Rosenberg were "guilty" or "not innocent" are taken as an actual judgment by society. Accordingly, we then have to act against the condemned. Conversely, the rulings that such people are "not guilty" may not be so easily accepted, due to the asymmetry in the assumption that one is assumed innocent until proven guilty. In this case the judicial system prefers to take the risk of freeing a guilty party over convicting innocents.
Others, particularly those in the philosophical or religious camps, believe 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 which do not stem from violating universal moral principles. Again, we see this in the legal arena. If a criminal shows guilt and remorse, he is said to have learned his lesson, and likely will receive a reduced sentence in court. This is especially true if the crime is “understandable;” for example, stealing food because of hunger. This latter example illustrates how empathy mitigates our tendency to punish the guilty. Lastly, empathy in the convicted theoretically reduces the likelihood that the guilty will re-offend.
Academia intellectualizes traditional or social process guilt and calls it other names, such as Collective Guilt or Collective Responsibility. Collective guilt is the unpleasant emotional reaction that results among a group of individuals when it is perceived that the group illegitimately harmed members of another group. It is often the result of sharing a social identity with others whose actions represent a threat to the positive polarity of that identity. Different intergroup inequalities can result in collective guilt, such as receiving unearned benefits and privileges or inflicting more extreme forms of harm on an outgroup (including genocide). Individuals are generally motivated to avoid collective guilt in order to maintain a positive social identity. There are many ways of decreasing collective guilt, such as denying harm or justifying actions. This probably functions in religious discrimination by one group to another. But, collective guilt can also lead to positive outcomes, such as promoting intergroup reconciliation and reducing negative attitudes towards the outgroup, especially if the outgroup is perceived as benign.
There are several causes of collective guilt; salient group identity, collective responsibility and perception of unjust ingroup actions. In order for an individual to experience collective guilt, he must identify himself as a part of the ingroup. This produces a perceptual shift from thinking of oneself in terms of “I” and “me” to “us” or “we.” Only when an individual is salient with the ingroup can he or she experience responsibility for the harmful actions of the group, past and present. In addition to ingroup salience, an individual will only feel collective guilt if he or she views the ingroup as responsible for the harmful actions done to the outgroup. For instance, racial inequality in the US can be described as either “black disadvantage” or “white privilege.” When the term “black disadvantage” is used to describe racial inequality, white participants feel less collectively responsible for the harm done to the outgroup, which lessened collective guilt. In comparison, when “white privilege” was used, white participants feel more collectively responsible for the harm done, which increased collective guilt.
One also finds collective guilt manifesting in Traditional or Cultural Guilt, such as found in Japanese, Korean and Ancient Greek societies, which are sometimes said to be "shame-based" rather than "guilt-based.”

“Successful guilt is the bane of society.”--Marguerite Osward

-Dr. Griggs

The Literature on Guilt—Part I

The following is the first in a four-part series of articles on the literature on guilt. It is written as an introduction to the topic and should be read in order.
In the literature, we find guilt to be the main theme in John Steinbeck's East of Eden, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, William Shakespeare's play “Macbeth,” Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat,” and in many other works. It is a major theme in many works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and is an almost universal concern of novelists who explore inner life and secrets.
The literature on guilt, like that on procrastination (see the ebook, Procrastination by this author), is theoretical, abstract and academic. I won’t dwell on too many details, but following are the general areas one can find relating to guilt. To keep it simple, I’ve divided the available information on guilt into loose and somewhat arbitrary categories.

Evolutionary causes

Some evolutionary psychologists theorize that guilt and shame helped maintain beneficial relationships, such as reciprocal altruism. If a person feels guilty when he harms another or fails to reciprocate kindness, he is less likely 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, as well as those of the tribe or group. As with some other emotions, guilt can be manipulated to control or influence others. As a highly social animal living in large groups that are relatively stable, we need ways to deal with conflicts and events in which we inadvertently or purposefully harm others. If someone causes harm to another, and then feels guilt and demonstrates regret and sorrow, the person harmed is more likely to forgive. Thus, guilt makes it possible to forgive, helps hold the social group together and reduces the risk of retaliation through violence.

Neurological causes

Guilt is founded on our neurological system. We call this mechanism, mirror neurons. When we see another carrying out an action, we carry out the action ourselves in neuronal activity, though not in overt action. Their behaviors are replicated in our own nervous system, literally. When we see another person suffering, we can feel their suffering as if it is our own. This constitutes our powerful system of empathy, which motivates us to do something to relieve the suffering of others. If we cannot help another, or fail in our efforts, we experience bad feelings, one of which is guilt.
From the perspective of group selection, groups that are made up of a high percent of co-operators do better than groups with a low percent of co-operators when comparing between-group competition. The down side is that people who are more prone to high levels of empathy in general, or who specifically experience empathy-based guilt likely suffer more anxiety and depression. The upside is that they are also more likely to cooperate and behave altruistically. This is another way guilt-proneness is not always beneficial to the individual, or within-group competition, but highly beneficial in between-group competition. This brings into focus how guilt works in specialized groups.
-Dr. Griggs

Friday, October 14, 2011

Here’s What A Psychologist Says About Guilt--Part III

This is the third in a three-part series of articles on what a psychologist says about guilt. Please read the first two articles before reading this one.

To continue…

In guilt dynamics, there are only two patterns of thinking or behaving—rectifying something you did not do or rectifying something you erroneously did do. Either way you are stuck. In general, this is a no-win experience for the recipient. This is the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. In general, if we conform to the speaker’s manipulations, we have stuffed our anger and failed to be assertive. We feel crummy (anxiety on the surface, resentment underneath) and reinforce the guilt-inducing behaviors by not dealing with it directly. If we counter-manipulate at the level of the manipulation, we will have an argument and be further criticized by the speaker, again at the same level using the same standards, which in this case we are bucking. If we fail to respond; that is, do nothing, we are burdened with unresolved negative feelings. Strike three—you’re out!
I think of guilt as being on a continuum from the more local to the more global. Guilt can be induced by small events, like not coming home at curfew, especially if you happen to be a teenager. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, one can have “life guilt,” like Catholics and other Christians who were born in original sin.

“If you’re born on this world, you’re guilty, period. Screw you, end of report, next case. Your birth certificate is proof of guilt.”--George Carlin

From that point of view, humans are in a sorry state right out of the starting gate, and they didn’t even do anything, personally. The causes of guilt are failures in behavior, if viewed from legal, sociological or psychological perspectives, or sins, if viewed from a religious point of view. Both in the legal and religious arenas, there are lesser and greater transgressions. Thus, in law we have misdemeanors (petty theft, jaywalking) vs. felonies (burglary, assault). In Catholicism, there are intermediary “sins.” These are the venial sins. Then, there are the big ones, called mortal sins. (Catholics are my best customers because of all that guilt).
Guilt is intensified if the perception is that by our behavior, we have caused harm to another. Thus, getting drunk and running a stoplight causes us to crash into another’s car, which causes considerable harm to the other driver and car. However, guilt is diminished if there is no harm caused or if I don’t get caught. Consider this scenario. It is three in the morning, and I’m driving home on an old country road. I come to an intersection with a four-way stop, and there is no one around for miles. I slow down but don’t stop; instead, coast through the intersection after looking in all directions. Did I do something wrong? I didn’t hurt anyone and no one was there to remind me of the law, which I clearly knew; therefore, my driving must be OK.

The cause of guilt is to recognize that I have violated some standard of thinking, feeling or behaving. If I don’t appreciate or even know of the standard(s), then I don’t feel guilt. If I do, then I have a problem, mostly how to deal with my ambivalence. Ambivalence? Yes. Guilt, like procrastination and the inability to forgive are the three major forms of ambivalence. (An example of a minor form of ambivalence would be simple indecision, say at a restaurant, having trouble deciding which entrĂ©e is more appealing. Distrust can be a form of ambivalence, but some forms of distrust can just be distrust without ambivalence.)
In more ways than one, this is a treatise on ambivalence because guilt is one of three major forms of ambivalence. Why discuss ambivalence? Guilt rests on the foundation of ambivalence. Without a solid understanding of ambivalence, the three major manifestations of ambivalence make no sense. For a complete discussion on ambivalence and its relation to procrastination, guilt or forgiveness, see the author’s ebooks on these subjects.
-Dr. Griggs

What A Psychologist Says About Guilt--Part II

This is the second of a three-part series of articles on what a psychologist has to say about guilt. Please read the first article before reading this one.

To continue…

Because psychological pain is something to be avoided, the recipient is motivated to reduce his or her discomfort (conflict, indecision, anxiety). The speaker implies he or she can do that by conforming to THE standard (again, the speaker’s standard). The listener is “influenced,” albeit negatively. One of my many mentors over the years defined guilt as “any way I can control you.” Guilt is manipulative, and in this case more indirect, i.e., covert, but controlling.
Here is a short example. Suppose I come home from the grocery store and I bring several bags of groceries into the kitchen. My wife notices I forgot to buy milk. She says to me, “You forgot to buy milk. Don’t you love me?” Now I feel anxious because I failed at something. Worse, I have shown my wife I do not love her, at least by HER standards. What a failure I am. To reduce my guilt (anxiety, sense of failure), I “should” go back to the store, buy milk, bring it home, present it to my wife, who will then be assured that, in fact, I love her. My anxiety will be gone and she will be happy. Right? Not so fast!
The underlying feeling behind guilt—and this is what almost everyone misses—is anger, or one of its many subtler versions--resentment, frustration, annoyance, irritation, etc.

“Guilt is anger directed at ourselves—at what we did or did not do. Resentment is anger directed at others—at what they did or did not do.”--Peter McWilliams

No one likes to be criticized or judged or to be made to feel he or she has failed, or even just “fallen short.” The natural reaction to this kind of message; that is, to judgment or criticism, is resentment. The “control” aspect embedded in the communication that generates guilt is intended to covertly maneuver the recipient into behaving or thinking differently; in other words, to “fix” the problem as described by the speaker in the manner the speaker wishes, thereby acknowledging that THE standard as communicated is the right one. The anxiety motivates the recipient to “stuff” the anger. This is why we miss it. We are motivated by the speaker to conform to the speaker’s wishes, not to spell out how angry we are and why; rather, to conform to reduce our anxiety, thus feel better without experiencing overt conflict. This is the anatomy of guilt—pressure to accept some standard, resistance, anxiety and suppression of anger. So, what are we to do?
In the above example, I was motivated to return to the grocery store and buy milk, not to tell my wife I was irritated by her comments. My wife controlled me with guilt. She raised my anxiety on the surface and so to lower my anxiety, to rectify my “error,” I had to do what she wanted. She motivated me to do that with guilt, which I can only eliminate by going back to the store. She got what she wanted. I did not and was left with negative feelings.

-Dr. Griggs

Here’s What A Psychologist Says About Guilt--Part I

This is the first of a three-part series of articles on guilt, from a psychologist’s point of view. It focuses on underlying dynamics and is presented in a no-nonsense format.

OK, here’s my take. On the surface, guilt is another form of anxiety. It is an uncomfortable feeling. It tends to be a little vague, like that experienced with panic or phobia. Anxiety has been described as fear without an object; that is, we don’t always know what makes us uneasy. Guilt is a little like that. We don’t always have in our awareness the cause of what is bothering us. We just know “something is not right.”

“It is a sort of waking dream, which, though a person be otherwise in sound health, makes him feel symptoms of every disease; and, though innocent, yet fills his mind with the blackest horrors of guilt”--William Heberden

Guilt occurs when we either did something we should not have, or we did not do something we should have. These are “sins” of commission or “sins” of omission, and both involve our reactions to at least one of what I call the seven deadly words or phrases. (These are described in detail in my ebook, “Why Relationships Fail.”) “Should” or “Should not” are the most common offending deadly words but any of the seven deadly words or phrases can set up guilt. (The others are “Always,” “Never,” “Must,” “Have to” and “Need to.”) Should and Should Not are probably used more to do this, so I’ll use these two to generally describe how guilt works. This is the same as what is found in the dynamics of procrastination, only with guilt, there is more of a sense of right vs. wrong relative to our behaviors. We then feel judged, then criticized. Criticism is the primary vehicle of guilt and is a function of comparing something done with something that should or should not have been done. In this sense, guilt dynamics are similar but not exactly the same as in procrastination, even though both are a form of ambivalence. Procrastination is a function of comparing something not done with something that should have been done, usually more relative to time. Hopefully this is communicated with less personal criticism (but not always). Procrastination can have a judgment aspect, but usually it functions more at an evaluative or transactional level and can function all by itself without any consideration of judgment. One can have procrastination with or without guilt, but guilt more often occurs when there is a personal sense of inadequacy, regardless of whether or not there is a delay in completing tasks. Guilt is only slightly less likely to simultaneously occur with procrastination, and is slightly more convoluted. This can be confusing, so let me spell this out more concretely.
In guilt-inducing communication, one or more of the seven deadly words or phrases is used directly or indirectly to criticize. This means pointing out our failings, usually through more subtle means. If I say, “You should have cleaned up your room,” I am implying but not directly stating YOU are messy, inconsiderate or perhaps just a slob. If you respond to such a guilt-inducing communication, you feel “crummy” and are motivated to correct the situation to reduce your anxiety. While procrastination sometimes involves this, guilt almost always thrives on judgment and criticism. Think being a parent, scolding a child. In judging someone, the speaker evokes some standard, real or imagined, relative to some behavior(s) or values. The speaker who induces guilt judges the recipient to have failed to live up to some way of behaving or some way of thinking that the speaker believes to be THE (meaning, right) standard. Because of the conflict, the recipient then feels some amount of anxiety, which is a direct result of how much the recipient directly or indirectly accepts THE standard, stated or implied.
-Dr. Griggs