August 01

The origin of guilt

Posted by aadsera

Irrational feelings of guilt lower self-esteem and can even make it difficult to use our own judgment. However, guilt in itself is natural in humans and has the positive roles of helping govern our impulses and facilitating social structure. To better understand the distinction between normal guilt and irrational guilt we have to know their origin.

Guilt is a feeling, a cognitive emotion based on a most basic emotion: shame. Children first experience embarrassment at 12 to 18 months, whereas they first experience guilt at three or four years of age. Guilt is involved in the formation of the self in the individual. Anthropologists say that all cultures of humanity, to a greater or lesser extent, promote guilt. In general, we can differentiate between cultures focused on internal guilt (Western cultures) and cultures centered on social shame or dishonor (Eastern cultures). In the West, social behavior is regulated by intrinsic punishments, those that are internal, personal – that is, through the conscience. In contrast, in the East external punishments are favored – that is, those based on shame.

In general, we can summarize the nature of feelings of guilt in one sentence from psychiatrist Carlos Castilla del Pino: "The origin of guilt is social, although the experience of guilt is personal."