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

Guilt Quotes--Part II

I found some more good quotes on guilt…

“Guilt is the reason they put the articles in Playboy.”--Dennis Miller

“Food, love, career, and mothers, the four major guilt groups.”-- Cathy Guisewite

“No work for love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”—Alan Watts

“The only things that I can tell you is that every case I have reviewed I have been comfortable with the innocence or guilt of the person that I've looked at. I do not believe we've put a guilty... I mean innocent person to death in the state of Texas.”--George W. Bush

“Never regret anything because at one time it was what you wanted.”--Unknown

“It's regret, I think that really is the worst kind of pain. Yeah guilt is bad, and sadness is bad, but regret is the sickly combination of both.” --Unknown

“Is it possible that all the horrible things you've done have been forgotten by everyone-except yourself?”--Unknown
“Alas! How difficult it is not to betray one's guilt by one's looks.”--Ovid
“Innocence does not find near so much protection as guilt.”--Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but guilt is simply God's way of letting you know that you're having too good a time.”--Dennis Miller

“Now, of course, the great thing about the solar system as a frontier is that there are no Indians, so you can have all the glory of the myth of the American westward expansion without any of the guilt.”--Sarah Zettel

“Repentant tears wash out the stain of guilt.”--Saint Aurelius Augustine

“Guilt is present in the very hesitation, even though the deed be not committed.”--Cicero

“Guilt is a spiritual Rubicon.”--Jane Porter floating around in our culture and our consciousness.
“Why don't Jews drink? It interferes with their suffering.”--Henny Youngman

“How tedious is a guilty conscience!”--John Webster hat we can do. It is greatly misunderstood and because of this it is rarely given in the truest sense of the w
“We prefer a meaningless collective guilt to a meaningful individual responsibility”--Thomas Szasz.

--Dr. Griggs

Guilt Quotes--Part I

In my wanderings about the literature on guilt, I ran across some quotes. Some are sprinkled throughout an ebook I’ve written on guilt. Here’s some I thought were good:

“Guilt is anger directed at ourselves.”--Peter McWilliams

“If I had my life to live over again, I'd be a plumber.”--Albert Einstein

“If you wind up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest or some guy on TV telling you what to do, then YOU DESERVE IT.”--Frank Zappa

“It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”--Oscar Wilde

“Guilt is the price we pay willingly for doing what we are going to do anyway.”--Isabelle Holland

“The guilty think all talk is of themselves.”--Chaucer

“Guilt is absent when the act is justified.”--Anon

“For socialists, not just the wealth, but the guilt must be redistributed.”--Andrew Sandlin

“Guilt is the very nerve of sorrow.”--Horace Bushnell

“It is quite gratifying to feel guilty if you haven’t done anything wrong; how noble! Whereas it is rather hard and certainly depressive to admit guilt and to repent.” Hannah Arendt

“You can bear anything if it is not your fault.”--Katherine Fullerton Gerould

“Guilt is regret for what we’ve done. Regret is guilt for what we didn’t do.”--Unknown

“I have half a conscience to go ahead and do it, and feel guilty afterwards.”--Unknown

“Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.”--Erma Bombeck

“Fear is the tax which conscience pays to guilt”--Anon

“Whoever blushes confesses guilt, true innocence never feels shame.”--Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.”--Coco Chanel

“I have never smuggled anything in my life. Why, then, do I feel an uneasy sense of guilt on approaching a customs barrier?”--John Steinbeck

-Dr. Griggs

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Examples of Guilt--Part VI

This is the last of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

Bigger causes of guilt require greater perspective, but not any more effort to find a third standard. For example, there are various methods of reducing collective guilt. One of these methods is to deny an ingroup’s deleterious actions or results. “It really isn’t so bad.” By denying the ingroup’s harmful actions, or downplaying the severity of the harm, the effect of collective guilt is lessened. Gangs routinely ignore the violence they perpetrate on one another in the service of maintaining gang “integrity.” If an individual or group can neglect to observe the harm caused by their actions, either consciously or unconsciously, the involved parties will not feel collective guilt. So, if the gang “does a drive by,” then pays no attention to the aftermath, “justice is served” (with no ambivalence, no guilt).
Another way to reduce collective guilt is to deny responsibility, pleading the group’s actions were just. If a person does not feel that the ingroup is responsible for the harm caused by actions, collective guilt will be lessened. This works well if one identifies with the group and minimizes his or her own individual actions. However, if a person believes that only individuals are responsible for their own actions, and not a collective group, then they cannot deny the existence of collective responsibility, thereby they as individuals will feel some guilt. This is individual rationalization when it works, guilt when it fails to separate the person from the group.
Another is to focus on positive aspects caused by the harmful action. “Look at the good that came out of that.” If the individual believes that there were just reasons for the harm inflicted, collective guilt is likely to be reduced. Outgroup dehumanization is one effective means towards justifying the ingroup’s actions. For instance, an individual or group may choose to focus on the benefits of high levels of factory production and consumption, and not on its harmful effects on the environment. Rebellion upsets the control of dictatorships, resulting in presumably better forms of government. Union bargaining escalates costs (dues, meetings), but is not something an individual will necessarily suffer much from, so there results greater good for all—shorter work hours, greater hourly wages, more vacations, all in the service of justifying the Union’s action.
Again, in the literature, there are more academic and intellectual approaches to dealing with guilt. Guilt can sometimes be remedied by punishment (a common action advised or required in many legal and moral codes); forgiveness (see the next ebook by this title by this author); making amends (reparation--legal--or acts of reparation); sincerity, as in displaying remorse (confession to clergy) or restorative justice (paying pennance for a crime). Regarding the latter, law does not usually accept the agent's self-punishment, but some ancient codes made allowances for this. In ancient Athens, the accused could propose his own remedy, which could, in fact, be a reward, while the accuser proposed another consequence. The jury usually chose something in-between. This forced the accused to effectively bet on his support in the community, as Socrates did when he proposed "room and board in the town hall" as his fate. He lost, and drank hemlock, as advised by his accuser.
-Dr. Griggs

Examples of Guilt--Part V

This is the fifth of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

More complicated is the example of the wife who had the affair. She committed a sin of commission. She did something at the same time both reactive and proactive, that on the surface was negative, and it had a bigger impact on hers’ and others’ lives. Was her behavior immoral? From the Christian standpoint, it was. From a psychological perspective, it was understandable. The former judges, the latter evaluates. We understand the pressures the wife must have felt. We know her motives but we also know the mores and can probably guess the transgressed wedding vows. Was her behavior illegal? No, not in the USA (not considering Blue Laws). It is not illegal to have an affair in the United States, even though infidelity is the second most often cited reason for divorce, so it is not a matter of violating law. But the judging side of us thinks this act is personally heinous.
In this case, the third standard would be to identify the dysfunction in the marriage and to assess the dynamics. Preferably this will have occurred before the affair, but this requires that the wife would have had the skills necessary to confront the pain of poor communication with her husband, his drinking, avoiding or worse, ignoring her. Likely, she had little or no skills in these areas, and maybe experienced mood problems and low self-esteem, either before or during the marriage, thus she probably tolerated such a protracted negative union way too long. A review of her personal history probably also would reveal flaws in the development of self-control. Thinking about all these aspects, likely, the wife had considerable ambivalence. Regardless, the third standard is to acknowledge all these possible scenarios and experiences and to act upon what they suggest in other ways. In this case, marriage counseling was indicated, and if that failed, divorce counseling. If the wife made conscious all these experiences, availed herself of the options and then had an affair, we might have had a much greater acceptance of her behavior, even though if she was still married, it would have been the same “immoral” act, viewed judgmentally. But, psychologically, her affair would have made sense and in some circles, would even have been adaptive; that is, it pushed her out of her comfort zone, beyond her limitations and paved the way for psychological growth. This illustrates the principal of re-framing; that is, pulling back and looking at the bigger picture. This is just another way of stating, pay attention to another or third standard, and don’t succumb to the pressure of accepting only one of the two limited viewpoints (sins of omission or sins of commission). In the future, this will help heal the “faulty soul” feeling, which will be invaluable in working with shame and self-forgiveness (the next ebook, which is part three in this series of ambivalences).
In the example of eating a big, calorie-rich meal to celebrate graduating college (despite my doctor’s warning), my re-framing will be to expand the viewpoint, vowing to change something in the future. “My doctor is right, but this is only one meal. I’ll go to the gym and start eating better tomorrow.” This is accepting the sin of eating fatty foods now, and putting off the treatment until later. This is also ambivalence, rationalizing and procrastination through “hyperbolic reasoning” (See the ebook on Procrastination). In this case, procrastination and guilt overlap. I then go on to accept the guilt, but propose a remedy; one that I’ll just not now employ, thus allowing me to enjoy the big meal in the moment with my friends. The third standard is to eat well and exercise later. I have introduced the element of time to reduce the severity of my sin of commission (eating poorly), and later I may or may not carry out my plan (statistics suggest that when it comes to food, the “plan” likely will not be carried out, but again, that is the subject of the Procrastination ebook).
Using this same example, another version of the third standard, is to reject the first two. “I don’t care what the doctor said, what does he know?” “I’m only twenty-two. I can eat anything I want because I’m young.” “My parents eat this way and they are still alive and healthy.” This strategy also works well in the next example, about getting an A- vs. an A. “I’m only in seventh grade. Colleges don’t even start to look at grades until high school (this is not always true, these days…). “I’ve got three more exams to make up that boo-boo, so I don’t have to worry about it.” “I’ve learned the difference between homonyms, so no problems down the road.” Ambivalence succumbs to rationalization, and then suppression, at least for the time being.
--Dr. Griggs

Examples of Guilt--Part IV

Examples of Guilt--Part IV

This is the fourth of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

Guilt can be appropriate and act to protect us from danger. Using the example of speeding on the freeway; speeding, potentially, was dangerous. I was in the wrong, even though I rationalized my behavior by citing everyone else’s wrong behavior. (“If everyone else is doing it, it must be OK.”) The cop had a different perspective. He was enforcing the law, and that day, I just happened to be the fish in his barrel. In this case, the evaluation (vs. judgment) is not about me personally, but of a motorist going too fast. My personal reaction is another matter, but I probably don’t feel so judged, because my sin was not so much about me, personally, even though it was me behind the wheel. But if the consequence of my acts was major, or the policeman was looking for me specifically, then my sin would have been increasingly judged as such, probably legally, and the evaluation of my driving would have bled over into the judgment arena, and would have resulted in greater punishment. Imagine if my speeding caused an accident and someone was killed.
Regardless, my conversation with the officer, while tense, might have emphasized my need to get home early, that I was late because my son had a baseball game and I was the umpire, etc. I might have manipulatively complimented the officer on his nice shiny badge or how good it is that he was protecting the public. (These ploys don’t work on police.) I am manipulating, but it is in the service of creating that third standard--my need to be somewhere else in a hurry. While not necessarily true, I’m at least rationalizing that my need is greater in importance than the current standard--driving the speed limit. So, in this case, unless I’m rushing my wife to the hospital to deliver a baby, I’m at fault and guilty. So, sometimes, creating a third standard and standing up for it, assertively, doesn’t work very well, especially when the potential consequences are bigger and the standard I’m creating in my own defense is wrong. In less structured or smaller-consequence circumstances, this might work better, especially if the standard is not so clear.
Remember the example of wearing clean underwear? The third standard is, “I already have on clean underwear, so drop it.” The standard is, “Mom, what are the chances of getting into an accident while wearing this pair of underwear?” “Mom, if I’m in the hospital with a concussion, what physician is going to care about my underwear?” Not wearing clean underwear is an example both of sins of omission (I didn’t change before leaving) and commission (I’ve been wearing this underwear only a little while and I’m not going to change them). The “third” standard in this situation is created by being rational, using statistics, i.e., exploring the likelihood of a “bad” experience actually happening while I am wearing this pair of underwear. Because this event is a small one and has very little likely external consequence, and because it is between two individuals, now in a personal relationship, the rules of engagement are broader and more flexible. There is more opportunity to insert another standard or way of thinking and behaving, not having to conform to either of the two manipulative ones. I could even refuse to conform to the guilt-induced manipulations imposed by Mom all together. In this case the ambivalence is also about which path of action to take, not just the result of conflicting values. In this particular example, the dynamic of inducing guilt probably will remain more at the level of evaluation rather than judgment, one, because it is a small event, and two, because it is local, pertaining to intimate, personal information between two parties who more regularly interact personally.
-Dr. Griggs

Examples of Guilt--Part III

Examples of Guilt--Part III

This is the third of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

The trick was to “unbundle” one or more different dimensions that were embedded in one guilt-inducing level of communication. The principle is to deal with the different dimensions separately. Do so by making them conscious and then describe them out loud, preferably articulating each separately. This excavates the underlying ambivalence, exposes the anger and weakens the foundation of guilt. Unfortunately, still there might be some anxiety, but it will be more conscious. Now we have to speak up, which, for many of us, is another cause of anxiety. While this is still not entirely comfortable, it is a step away from verbal manipulation and towards psychological health.
Another thing I tried to do is in this example was to reduce comparisons to evaluations, not judgments. When we compare two “things” (ideas, beliefs, values, behaviors, etc.), we look at their merits. In my terms, that means looking at whether or not they work, or, whether they are effective; that is, accomplish the intended results. Something is superior or inferior if it does a better or worse job. This is an evaluation. That’s it. In the example, I created an Adult-Adult communication. This is good.
Judgment adds a different dimension, one of right or wrong. It tends to be more personal. Because it is personal, the judgment dynamic wreaks havoc at personal levels. It creates anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem and is the chief player creating resentment. This would be a Parent-Child communication. This is bad. In the example, I failed to buy milk. That was not personal, but my wife made it so to maneuver me, to change my behavior using guilt. I separated the two dimensions, restoring the failing-to-buy-milk part to being just transactional; that is, a behavior without personal sequelae (referring again to anxiety, depression, etc.). I made it Adult-to-Adult, not Parent-to-Child communication. I challenged the judgment part (“Don’t you love me?”) by eliminating the personal association implied by failing to buy milk. Failing to buy milk had nothing to do with loving my wife. It had to do with my absent-mindedness. I feel the same about my wife, regardless of my memory problem. In real life, sooner or later, judgment is likely to creep into almost any communication. Small and mild judgments will not do serious damage and can be dealt with in the above manner; that is, by separating the dimensions, then using process-level communication to expose the ruse via assertive communication.
A more blunt example is the adult parent being “guilted” into supporting his manipulative progeny. In this case, assertiveness might have taken the form of “tough love.” The parent might have turned the argument around by saying “Was I abandoning you when I was paying your rent all these years?” “Who’s the bad guy when you don’t succeed and I have to bail you out, at my expense?” “How about you get it together and pull your own weight and stop using my support to mask your lack of initiative?” This teases out all the levels and “powers up” this parent. Now, the parent is focused on THE standard—his!
-Dr. Griggs

Examples of Guilt--Part II

Examples of Guilt--Part II

This is the second of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.

To continue…

In most cases of guilt, the antidote is to create another (meaning, your) standard, other than that implied by committing or omitting something, or by conforming to the speaker’s wishes or arguing on the speaker’s terms only, or by conforming to the expectation (laws, values, norms), or worse, by just holding it all in and saying or doing nothing. We also have to challenge, and then negotiate the “rightness” or “wrongness” of THE standard. To do this, we have to become aware of the underlying forces acting upon us from the outside and our internal reactions. In common language, to reduce the guilt, we have to ask ourselves what it is WE want, not what is being imposed upon us. We have to think independently of the implied or real manipulation of the guilt-inducer. If we are paying attention to guilt-inducing communication, we will immediately “get” that we have been judged and that some set of standards has been or is about to be imposed upon us. If we are in tune, we immediately and consciously feel anxiety because there is conflict, and likely frustration, resentment or anger underneath. Now we know our feeling and if we are assertive, we can put our feelings into words and say something. In addition, when we speak, hopefully there will be something in our communication about the attempt to manipulate us (the cause of the anger); thus, we will defuse the indirect controls inherent in the guilt ploy. This is also articulating some process, not just the underlying feelings. (If you are not skilled at introspecting and then speaking up, see this author’s ebook, The Five Steps of Assertiveness.) The ambivalence is made conscious and we begin to think of “handling” the underlying conflicts and judgments through a different behavioral mechanism, most often employing simple assertiveness.
In the example when I went to the store to buy groceries, I might have interrupted the guilt-inducing comments with my own, more assertive and direct retort. “Yes honey, I see I forgot the milk. I am sorry. By the way, where did you get the idea this means I don’t love you?” I have exposed the manipulation. Then I might have said, “I’m sorry. If you need milk right away, I’ll go back to the store and buy some. If not, I’ll stop by a store later when I go out again. Is that OK?” Now, I have stated what I want, or in this case, what I am willing to do to fix the problem. I am willing to take care of the problem because it was my forgetfulness that led to my wife’s complaint. But, I am also standing up for what I want by suggesting a solution that better fits my needs, and in this case, better fits reality. I am functioning on MY terms. While my wife and I may debate which “plan” is better, at least I was assertive. I created an “alternative” behavior. I created the third standard—mine, which, I believe, is equally right. I teased out the irrationally linked concepts, separated and dealt with them overtly by saying something. In this instance, the transaction was about buying milk, while the interaction and dynamic were about being loved, or not. These are two entirely different dimensions. So, the first thing I try to do, and did in this example, is to separate the two dimensions, which in this case I accomplished by asking my wife how she “figured” I didn’t love her just because I forgot the milk.
-Dr. Griggs

Examples of Guilt--Part I

Examples of Guilt--Part I

This is the first of a six-part series of articles on guilt, emphasizing specific examples, and how to deal with them. Written by a psychologist.

In its most healthy and appropriate sense, guilt is an emotional warning sign that most people learn through their normal childhood social development. Its purpose is to let us know when we’ve done something wrong, to help us develop a better sense of our behavior by being aware of how our behaviors affect ourselves and others. It prompts us to re-examine our values, principles and ideals so that we don’t end up making the same mistake(s) twice. This thinking, as should be obvious by now, has an upside and a downside. Here’s some every-day, down-to-earth “situations,” and then discussions about how to deal with each by creating a third standard, not necessarily accepting the one mandated by the guilt-perpetrator. The response to some of these examples is in subsequent articles, so be sure to read all six in this series. (Also, see the previous articles on ambivalence and guilt, the psychology of guilt and dealing with guilt by this author.)
We speed on the freeway and rationalize the behavior. We tell ourselves, “I’m just keeping up with traffic.” There is ambivalence because we know we are driving faster than the speed limit, but at the same time everyone else is doing it, so it must be OK. This rationalization works to reduce the anxiety in our own minds, until we look in the rear view mirror and see a flashing red light. The cop shows us the number on his radar gun, and “now” we not only acknowledge guilt but also experience it acutely in the form of an admission of wrong doing, often followed by pleading our case to the policeman. We also experience anxiety. We imagine the price of the traffic ticket, think of the inconvenience of attending traffic school and paying higher insurance premiums. If we are lucky, the officer lets us off with a warning and we go our way, vowing not to speed again, or at least until the cop disappears.
Your mother tells you to always wear clean underwear when leaving the house. Why? “Because if you get into an accident and are taken to the hospital, the doctors will think you are a slob.” Ambivalence occurs because you know the doctor might think this but you also don’t want to give in to your mother’s demand. So, you don’t change your underwear just to spite your mom, but you drive extra carefully that day.
Your husband treated you badly, ignored you and thought only of himself for years. You had an affair because you no longer could stand the neglect and because you were angry to the core. You didn’t tell anyone and never got caught. Yet, you felt guilt, even though at deeper levels you justified your behavior. You had needs and they went unmet way too long, and even though your needs were legitimate, your behavior gave you “pause” (hence the ambivalence).
Your doctor said to stop eating fatty foods and to lose weight. That night, you are out with your best friends, celebrating graduating from college. The menu arrives and there are lots of yummy choices, plus a few calorie-restrictive ones (that taste like cardboard). You may feel guilty tomorrow, but not tonight. Will power is overruled by other powers. You know the correct thing to do (THE standard) because somewhere in the back of your mind are your doctor’s words. Yet, you order steak and lobster, butter, sour cream, chives, and a cheesecake chaser. (There were a few side vegetables somewhere on that plate, weren’t there?) Yum.
You got an “A minus,” not an “A” on your term paper, because you used a few incorrect forms of words. You beat yourself up. “Why didn’t I see that ‘their’ and ‘there’ are not the same? And, I used ‘to’ instead of ‘too.’ I wasn’t perfect and I ‘should’ have known better.” Ambivalence in this case might stem from knowing THE standard but also not caring sufficiently to use the right words at the time because of competing interests, or just laziness.
-Dr. Griggs

Ambivalence and Guilt--Part I

Ambivalence and Guilt--Part I

This is the first of a two-part series on ambivalence and guilt. Written by a psychologist.

We all suffer from internal conflicts every day; some big, some little. Some conflicts are between ideas, concepts and values, while others are only between feelings. Some are conscious, some unconscious. In all cases, the irresolution of the conflict sponsors indecisiveness. The subjective experience is, “It doesn’t feel good.” It creates a sense of uneasiness. In my trade, it is said, we “compensate” or “defend” against this anxiety; that is, and we try to “deal” with it. Our training and experience determines the style (form and function) of the behaviors that express the conflict, as well as the psychological defenses we employ. These states of affair or subjective experiences of these conflicts are what I call “The Ambivalences.” Ambivalence is very common. It is a subclinical phenomenon; meaning, not a mental illness. I speak of three primary manifestations—procrastination, guilt and forgiveness. We all experience them.

So, I went to Google and typed in, “Ambi.” I found the following:

“…A prefix occurring in loanwords from Latin, meaning “both” (ambiguous) and “around”(ambient); used in the formation of compound words.”

And what is valence?

“…The psychological value of an object, event, person, goal, region, etc. in the life space of an individual…negative and positive for the valence of things avoided and sought after, respectively.”

The term “valence” is actually not very good, because it comes from chemistry, which is a hard science; whereas, psychology is not. In chemistry, valence is said to reflect the tendency, strength and/or capability to bond, as in two elements, chemical or molecules. In psychology, valence reflects the attraction or repulsion of feelings and ideas, which determine behavior. Such attractions and repulsions can be weak or strong, conscious or unconscious.

Put “ambi” and “valence” together to get “ambivalence.” One definition is the following:

“The coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.”

A more detailed psychology definition of ambivalence includes the following:

“A tendency to ‘flip-flop’ one’s feelings or attitudes about a person, object or idea…. A state in which one is pulled in two mutually exclusive directions or towards two opposite goals. This meaning …shows up most clearly in the research on behavioral reactions to various forms of conflict.”

Ambivalence is when we want or do not want two things at once. As with all ambivalences, guilt can pop up when there are conflicts over values, ideas or feelings. However, guilt usually involves something more personal about us, what we did that was wrong vs. what we “should” or “should not” have done. We are aware of some aspects of these; that is, we may have a conscious experience of the conflicts. Or, the conflicts may be between what we are aware of and what is out of awareness. Many a thought has come and gone, yet still resides in our unconscious minds. Here, we find values, preferences, hidden motivations, likes and dislikes. As Freud said, here exists a whole pantheon of buried impulses; some good, some not. This mess in the back of our minds makes us both want something and at the same time not want something.
-Dr. Griggs

Ambivalence and Guilt--Part II

This is the second in a two-part series of articles on ambivalence and guilt. Please read the first article before reading this one. Written by a psychologist.

The Dictionary of Psychology defines an “Approach-Avoidance” situation, as …

“A conflict resulting from being both drawn and repelled by the same goal. This type of conflict is particularly difficult to resolve in that with distance the goal appears more desirable than fearful, whereas with proximity its aversive qualities tend to dominate, causing withdrawal, which, of course leads to an increase in the goal’s perceived positive features relative to the negative ones.”

For example, what happens when we are offered a job with a raise in salary but there are drawbacks, like having to work more hours or to move to another city? It gets more complicated.

The “Double Approach-Avoidance” situation is defined as a:

“…variation on the simple Approach-Avoidance conflict, in which each of two goals has both positive and negative aspects.”

An example (conflict) is when a person is on a diet. After the meal the waiter presents a delicious, calorie-rich chocolate cake on one plate, and a plain, unadorned carrot on another plate. The choice is to enjoy the cake (+) but suffer the consequences later (-), or eat the plain carrot (-), but enjoy the benefits later (+). Each has a plus and a minus, hence the double approach-avoidance.
These are the simplest classifications of ambivalence. There are thousands of potential approach-avoidant, approach-approach, and double approach-avoidant situations. Here’s one I recently heard in the office.
You are the parent of an adult child who is beyond old enough to take care of herself. Yet, she berates you when you fail to pay her rent and other expenses. You feel good about taking care of her but you feel bad about encouraging her dependence. She rewards you with approval when you support her but calls you a quitter and accuses you of abandoning her when you threaten to focus more on your needs. What kind of ambivalence is this? Approach-Avoidant? Approach-Approach? Double Approach-Approach? Double Approach-Avoidant? (Hint--choose the last one…)
In sum, ambivalence is a technical way of describing indecision, which is really central to the three conditions of procrastination, guilt and forgiveness. Indecision creates anxiety, which results from having to choose between usually conflicting alternatives. Indecision and conflicts can be conscious or unconscious. A conscious conflict means you are aware of both sides of the “argument”--good vs. good, bad vs. bad, or both good vs. bad, usually for more than one choice. A partially conscious conflict is when you are not aware of at least one side of things, but still feel some form of indecision, hence anxiety about the choice(s). An unconscious conflict is when there is indecision and you feel anxious but don’t have a clue why. Guilt works with ambivalence combining conflict with a sense of right and wrong in relation to THE standard.
-Dr. Griggs