Neurotic Guilt: How to Know You Have One

Did you know that out of all living beings, only humans are capable of feeling guilt? There are many scientific theories explaining the emergence of feelings of guilt, but they all agree on one thing - this feeling is critically important for the existence of human society in the form in which it exists today. Feelings of guilt are a kind of safety factor that does not allow us to behave aggressively or immorally. Fear of pangs of conscience helps us fulfill our social obligations, take care of the weak, and honestly do our job. According to the observations of criminologists, psychopaths and maniacs differ in that they are not able to experience feelings of guilt and compassion, and it is this defect in their psyche that allows them to commit crimes.

What is neurotic guilt?

Everything is good in moderation. Too much guilt is just as fatal as no guilt at all. According to statistics, almost 80% of all suicides are due to excessive feelings of guilt or shame. Psychologists distinguish between "real" feelings of guilt and "neurotic" ones. People feel "real" guilt when they do wrong. A "neurotic" feeling of guilt arises in a situation where a person blames himself, but at the same time he has not done anything wrong. Here are some classic examples of neurotic guilt feelings:

The person blames himself for the fact that he could not prevent in any way, because it lay outside the area of ​​his responsibility and capabilities. For example, a five-year-old child blames himself for his parents' divorce. Some people are capable of feeling ashamed for the fact that someone is worse for them. Are you ashamed that children are starving in Africa, and you have already eaten the second cutlet? This is neurotic guilt.

A person experiences too much guilt in comparison with the magnitude of his offense. You once lied to your mom that you lost your diary and now thirty years later you still can't forget it and feel guilty? It means that you have a "neurotic" feeling of guilt.

The feeling of guilt for "bad" (evil, vulgar, immoral) thoughts and desires is also identified by some psychologists as neurotic. Controlling your thoughts is much more difficult than actions, and often even impossible. However, people are capable of suffering for years because of what they once thought. For example, adolescents often feel guilty about sexual fantasies or dreams.

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Thus, the "neurotic" feeling of guilt depends little on how a person behaves in reality. Even being absolutely positive, he can constantly experience exhausting feelings of guilt, expressed in obsessive thoughts, low self-esteem, and in critical cases, even in suicide attempts.

Where does "neurotic" guilt come from and how is it defined?

Psychologists associate the presence of a neurotic sense of guilt with personality traits that were formed in early childhood. Between the ages of one and five, children learn more than just walk, talk and brush their teeth. This age is also critical in order to form an opinion about yourself as a person. What am I? Good, kind and honest? Or am I wrong, bad and generally the cause of all the troubles of others? A child's self-image is formed on the basis of those characteristics that are transmitted to him by close people - parents, educators, relatives. If a child is constantly “to blame” for everything: that he fell and got dirty, that dad came home angry from work, that grandmother's blood pressure rose, then this forms the basis for the emergence of neurotic feelings of guilt in the future.

Healthy “right” guilt tells us what to do differently to become a better and better world around us. While the neurotic feeling of guilt brings us nothing but moral torment, psychologists advise us to get rid of such “guilt”, either on our own or with the help of a specialist.

To determine whether guilt feelings are “real” or “neurotic, ” it is enough to honestly answer the following questions:

Was what happened really my responsibility? And if so, what makes me think so? Is there any proof of this?

What moral standards have I violated? Are these moral standards adequate and reasonable?

Can I somehow fix what happened?

If the same thing happens in the future, will I be able to prevent it somehow, or is it not in my power?