Does the feeling of guilt serve a purpose? If so, what?

Inspired by Swift Expression

I suppose if I’m going to answer this question fully, I’ll need to share with you a time I felt guilty.

Hang on, let me google a definition of guilt, so I know what I’m talking about:

Guilt is a cognitive or emotional experience that occurs when a person realises or believes – accurately or not – that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation.”

I am ashamed to say that once, I hit my girlfriend. We were having a heated argument, I can’t even remember what about, and I slapped her across the face. I realised as soon as I had done it, that I had just done something, so incredibly wrong. It was as if time stood still. Instant regret. Whatever we had been arguing about had now become completely irrelevant compared to what I had just done.

I have never, and hope to God, will never, hit anybody ever again. Why? Presumably the intense feeling of guilt and shame I felt at that instant were powerful enough to prevent me from ever wanting to feel like that again. So I suppose I have answered the question. Yes the feeling of guilt does serve a purpose. The purpose of making you behave better, in order to cause less harm to society.

Of course, not everybody feels guilt in the same way. Some people continue to beat their partners without a twinge of the stuff. Others feel guilty, when in all actuality, they have really done nothing wrong in the eyes of society, but they feel guilty in themselves, due to low self-esteem or a feeling that they should be better than they are. Often the partner receiving the beating will feel guilty and ashamed. Guilty because they feel they should have a perfect relationship, or that they have done something wrong to deserve it. It is hard to see how a feeling of guilt is serving a purpose in these cases.

So why did I feel guilty? I knew it was wrong. I’ve watched Eastenders. I’ve seen Trevor hit Little Mo over the head with an iron. He was a bad guy, no question. It was also anxiety, anxiety that someone would find out, my mother, her mother and what they would think of me? Anxiety that it would cause my girlfriend to leave me. Did I feel bad about hurting her face? Not really, because I don’t think I did. I realise that sounds awful.

In truth, guilt, or the guilty conscience, isn’t it just a fear of being found out? A fear of being punished? Like pain is a warning system that you’ve caused harm to your body, that serves the purpose of keeping your body safe. Guilt is a warning that you’ve caused harm to your conscience, and are now going to be lying awake, worrying about getting found out. Which we would all rather not do, let’s be honest.

Now I’ve confused myself. Does guilt serve a purpose? For the sake of keeping the majority of society moving and functioning well as a whole, then yes I suppose it does.

Why do some Catholics self-flagellate?

Anyone who’s familiar with my blog will know I have feelings for a married woman. Do I feel guilty? No not in the slightest. Would I feel guilty about the thought of her husband walking in on us? You betcha. Because that would involve some form of punishment for one or both of us.

I apologise if I’m going a little off topic here. Again! Should I feel more guilty than I do? Should I feel guilty about it? Now I feel guilty about not feeling guilty!

And I don’t want to feel guilty, I’d like to be able to sleep tonight. So I’m going to conveniently push this to the back of my mind.

I’ve changed my mind. No guilt does not serve a purpose. It prevents you from getting on and living your life and doing what you want to make yourself happy.

Did I mention I’m conflicted?

And I will wake up tomorrow feeling incredibly guilty that I’ve written this post, and therefore will never write a post like this again… until next time.

I do feel guilty though, I feel guilty about hurting her (married woman) which I did. I never meant to hurt her.

This was such a bad idea writing this post!!!!!

But it really, really f@*$s me off that we, as a society, are made to feel guilty about sex, bowel movements and loving more than one person at the same time. Who decided the rules anyway???????????

I’ll stop here before I start writing about the role of unconscious guilt in developing sexual masochistic tendencies…

2 thoughts on “Does the feeling of guilt serve a purpose? If so, what?

  1. Must … go … to … bed. Will write more tomorrow. Really great post! Sorry if it got you into a bit of a twist. Suffering often leads to some really good writing, and other forms of creative expression. Maybe that helps a bit. Hey, maybe that’s another purpose for guilt! I makes us write well! LOL. Brilliant post.

  2. Morning time – just. Gosh what a strange reply I wrote last night. Oh well, I was tired. That’s a really interesting, very deep post. Will you copy it onto my blog sometime, if you would be so kind? Obviously you struggled with some intense feelings while writing it, but I get the feeling you have intense feelings about a lot of things. Some people tend to cruise through life with a laissez-faire approach to everything; others are more like a stormy sea. I happen to like stormy seas.

    I remember walking my dogs on a beach in Spain one night. The place was completely deserted – it was winter and dark. The sea was wild, the wind was wild, and huge waves were thrashing against the shore. I could actually taste salt on my lips and feel it in my hair, that’s how wild the water was – it was actually reaching me through the air. It was wonderful. Majestic, haunting, almost magical. My dogs were loving it too, zooming around on the sand, while I just strolled along and marvelled at the mighty sea, dark grey and indigo, wild and stormy. Utterly wonderful. Funny, I don’t really remember any other night when I went walking on that beach, and I walked on it so many times. But I remember that night.

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