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  Guilt, in past civilizations, was seen as the cause of mental illness (as well as of physical illness and catastrophe), and sins had to be confessed to make possible a cure. This was the case for the Aztecs of ancient Mexico, the Semitic civilizations of the ancient Orient and the Emperors of China. In modern psychology guilt feelings must also be relieved if patients are to get better.

Modern psychologists perceive guilt as a state in which a person feels a guilt about some past event which he or she had little power to control or prevent, and about which powerful guilt-feelings remain which can cause states of depression and anxiety. This is distinct from the definition of guilt which attributes fair blame and responsibility to an individual for a criminal action, though both senses are connected to fear of retribution and punishment. Freud looked specifically at this former kind of neurotic guilt. He saw guilt as arising from conflict between the person\'s Superego, the internationalized moral agency, and the expression of infantile wishes and desires—this is like an internal continuation of conflict between the child and the parents in the adult person\'s history.

Shame is closely related to guilt, as it is an emotion of self-assessment. But guilt, unlike shame, cannot be avoided by concealment. It has been suggested that guilt is done by the self on account of a specific (harmful) action, while shame is done to the self by the (imagined) views of others. MJ

Further reading H.B. Lewis, Shame and Guilt in Neurosis.



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