Psychologically, the experience of guilt - being guilty and/or feeling guilty - fragments the individual. Guilt is the double self, the other that accompanies. This is an embarrassing experience that often triggers the desire to hide, appease, or eliminate guilt.
In order to talk about the various aspects that involve the issue of guilt, the difficulties in dealing with guilt, it is necessary to conceptualize and understand it. After all, what is guilt, what makes someone feel guilty?
From a psychological point of view, guilt takes place every time someone is responsible, or held responsible, for some behavior that is unexpected, undue, or illegal. Acting unconventionally (not tied by society, the community, the family, or the work environment), outside the expected, structures and triggers guilt. This guilt presents two configurations: the guilt generated by not adapting to what was established and the guilt generated by not meeting the expectations and agreements established with the other in relational intimacy.
The employee who is late or who makes a mistake, as well as the authority that does not fulfill responsibilities or that does not meet deadlines and established rules, are guilty. Errors or failures on the part of professionals such as doctors and engineers, for example, whose faults may harm, damage, and even kill people - or lead to losses for clients and companies -, make these professionals guilty.
These issues are so frequent that they already include legal penalties; that is to say, they are already under the legal sphere, although constantly leaving unsolvable residues that can fill their perpetrators with guilt. A doctor who feels incapable of performing surgery after lawsuit clearance, for example, may continue to feel guilty. He cannot apologize, cannot get rid of his own guilt, because he knows that a minimal, inexpressive variable was the cause of everything, the cause of the medical error, which concerns his insecurity or his professional insufficiency.
In commitments, in arrangements, in intimate affective relationships, guilt-inducing situations are covered in disguises, in lies; for this reason, guilt is very close to deception. Matters of marital, corporate, and family fidelity rely on appearances, with the maintenance of rules and agreements. Affective relationships between couples may bring about frustrations after some time; consequently, when these relationships are maintained, there is no loving support, there is only social and family support, which must be preserved for convenience. These relationships are not presided over by dedication and satisfaction with the other; on the contrary, what determines continuity are conveniences and fears. In this context, the experience of guilt is very close to the experience of deception: an experience that neutralizes storms, transforming them into fear of being discovered, into disappointment, which are more manageable than guilt.
From the observation of these aspects, these dynamics, and their implications, psychoanalysis - through one of its theoretical representatives, Melanie Klein - speaks of guilt as an experience of reparation. From this point of view, having guilt is fundamental, it is the way to fix disunity, to repair divisions stemming from the first months of life, in which the breast is sometimes seen as good, sometimes as bad. The breast is good when it gratifies, when it drips milk after being sucked, thus receiving gratifying, good fantasies. When the breast does not gratify - does not drip - it is a bad breast that receives a series of destructive and bad fantasies. Later, as the months go by, the child realizes that the breast - both the good and the bad - are part of the same mother, the same nourishing source. This discovery creates drama, immense guilt in the child, as they realize that they tried to destroy the object that fed them. Melanie Klein states that his guilt arises as an experience of reparation. Through guilt, the child unifies the mother - split by their fantasies -, thus recovering her. These are the words of the psychoanalytic analysis of M. Klein, which evidence that focusing on “object relations” allows us to understand the unconscious conflicts of the child, and later, of the adult.
It turns out that man is in the world, constituting a totality. There is no separation between the individual and the world; everything that exists, exists with him/her and in him/her. It is like the time-space relationship: what happens always happens in a place and at a time, without causal attributions – time does not cause space and vice versa. The different contexts with the other in the world comprise possibilities, impossibilities, conditions, circumstances. In the face of all this, the human being - the individual - feels both capable and incapable. The experience of these capacities and incapacities configures the processes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, structuring capable, satisfied, fulfilled, or incapable, dissatisfied, unfulfilled people, with simultaneous or excluding alternations of different states. These variations structure impotence in front of the other, in front of oneself, and towards what happens and the circumstances under which it happens.
The structuring of impotence in any situation - the structuring of incapacity - is cumulative, its residues always characterize the nonmeeting of demands. The continuous experiences in face of this lack - this incapacity - generate omission and a feeling of fear, of lack, which will characterize the experiences of ineptitude or weakness. One feels that it is not convenient, it is not acceptable to let weaknesses and incapacities be perceived, and that it is necessary to hide them. Therefore, one dedicates oneself to the creation of respectable images, masks that hide what one finds ugly, disguises that serve to deceive and mislead. Guilt makes acceptable to hide incapacities, impotence, fears, and weaknesses, whether in broad spheres (society), whether in the family, in front of others, and in front of oneself. Feeling guilty is, paradoxically, a way to absolve oneself from the imputed guilt, thus neutralizing the dichotomies of right and wrong, of good deed and bad deed, of sin.
In the individual sphere, guilt is equivalent to the baptismal font that exempts from all evils. In this swamp of division, discontinuity imposes itself. Life is filled with ghosts, lies, contradictions. More and more guilt has to be fed, and the more it grows to cover everyday impotence, the more it empties individuality. Emptied through situations that have to be hidden, one denies oneself, losing contact with what is alive. One thus lives by the appearances to keep, the commitments to fulfill, the motivations to hide.