Guilt-induction is a powerful means by which to motivate obedience, conformity, and some forms of morality. It is often used by religious groups, cultural institutions, and parents alike. One downside is that it can also foster feelings of unworthiness and stifle personal growth. Pervasive guilt is implicated in certain forms of mental illness. But guilt can also play a positive role in our lives. It can lead to greater self-knowledge, willingness to take responsibility for harms done to others, and efforts to make amends. We will examine these different forms of guilt, how they develop, and ways they can either hinder or enhance our lives.
Carolyn Zahn-Waxler is a member of the UUFDC and the First Unitarian Society of Madison. She worked for over 35 years as a Research Psychologist for the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD before returning to her home state of Wisconsin. She is affiliated with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.