This is the second of a three part series of articles on the psychology of guilt. Please read the first article before reading this one…
Here’s another perspective, from psychology:
“In this definition, guilt is a negative, paralyzing emotion, based on non-acceptance of oneself or the situation, and it leads to depression and frustration rather than change or improvement. Guilt is usually a negative focus upon oneself: ‘I am an evil person. I can't bear myself. I am unworthy.’ While this response may appear in a religious guise, it often turns out to be a form of self-deprecating laziness. This can even lead to self-hatred, and certainly contributes to lack of self-confidence. Instead of recognizing that one’s actions are incorrect, one gets the feeling as if one is unworthy, as if ‘I’ am intrinsically bad.
In Buddhism such type of guilt is categorized as a... "disturbing attitude: one doesn't see the situation clearly and may well be a tricky form of self-centeredness associated with anxiety, and sometimes depression.”
In other words, guilt has a notorious down side; a rotten underbelly that manifests as conflict, while at the same time obfuscates awareness of underlying feelings. Because it is painful, guilt can be a powerful motivator of behavior.
For example, guilt can make you overly socially sensitive. This is true if you are too willing to do anything in your attempt to make everyone happy. In this case it makes you overly conscientious. You fret over every action you take, overly consider the possible negative consequence to others, even if this means that you must ignore your needs and wants. Because it is less guilt-inducing to take care of others first, instead of yourself, you hide behind the mask of self-denial. You honestly believe it is better to serve others first, unaware that "guilt" is the motivator for such "generous" behavior. You see decisions about right and wrong in every aspect of your life and become obsessed with the tenuous nature of all of your personal actions, words and decisions. You are most sensitive to the cues of others when any implication of your wrongdoing is intimated. In extreme cases, guilt can immobilize you. You can become so overcome by the fear of doing, acting, saying or being "wrong" that you eventually collapse, give in, and choose inactivity, silence and the status quo. In this case, guilt neutralizes both initiative and assertiveness.
Here’s another dark side of guilt; it can interfere in your decision-making. It is so important to always be "right" in your decisions that you become unable to make a decision lest it be a wrong one. This is when guilt clobbers insight and reinforces suppression. Guilt makes you downplay the full array of your feelings. When guilt rules there is less of a subjective pay off to look deeper. There’s just conflict and pain “down there.” Overcome by guilt or the fear of it, you can become emotionally blocked or closed off. You are able neither to enjoy the positive fruits of life nor experience the negative aspects.