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Definition of Guilt and Anxiety

The Definition of Guilt. In its most elemental sense guilt is the awareness of irresponsible value negation. It is the awareness that we have said a tragic no to some valued relationship amid the process of attempting to say a self-actualizing yes to some other valued relationship.

Guilt is not merely a generalized awareness that values are being lost, but the specific awareness that my values are being denied due to my irresponsible decision. That which makes a certain person feel guilty thus depends entirely upon his own unique ethical frame of reference.

Choice demands negation. Whenever I choose to actualize one set of values, I neglect other potential values. Every pursued good implies a dozen unpursued goods. Every moment spent on the achievement of one goal is time lost on the achievement of numerous other potential goals. I cannot be a chooser without being a denier. If this is so, then I must live constantly with many forms of painful memory that I have failed to be what I might have been and that repeatedly I have had to deny numerous values which I earnestly embrace. Every choice in a sense is a tragic choice, since it is impossible to be a human being without choosing and it is impossible to choose without the negation of value and it is impossible to negate values without guilt.

The Anxiety-creating Consequences of Guilt. Anxiety is an inevitable consequence and companion of every guilt-creating deed. Wherever there is remembered value negation, there lives alongside it the anxiety of being discovered as a value negator. Anxiety follows upon guilt with dogged inevitability. For the valuing individual fears being discovered as a value negator by others who share these same cherished values. Consequently, a major preoccupation of the guilt sufferer is his corresponding battle with anxiety. The sufferer runs, hides, deceives, tries to prevent detection as a value negator. He may develop elaborate strategies by which he can conceal his past from view.

Reference: TSOA, pp. 44, 47, 53.