True Guilt, False Guilt & Sociopaths

by Peter Milhado PHD on May 25, 2018

There are people who never experience guilt. They are not, however, the lucky ones nor do we want to be around them.  The inability to feel guilt is the basic flaw of sociopaths, who are truly ‘empty souls’.  In this article I’m not writing about the criminal sociopath, who makes newspaper headlines and commits the vilest of crimes without remorse, but I want to address the so-called ‘successful sociopath’ who is in abundance in our midst.

Successful sociopaths don’t lie, because lying is not an issue- the idea of the image of truth does not exist!  They say whatever is convenient, whether it’s true or not, is never even contemplated…you get the drift?

Many sociopaths in our society are very ‘successful’ as they’re not hemmed in by worries and neurotic inhibitions.  They just go for it- whatever it may be – power, sex, money etc.  They’ll have sex with a 95-year-old woman or man to get to the money.  As they have no guilt or inhibitions they can ‘make love’ to anybody, anyplace, anytime.  Many of them have tremendous charm and charisma and are envied by many because of their apparent freedom. Their ease in social situations along with their lack of inhibitions and air of freedom makes them attractive to a lot of folks. A person, who falls in love with a sociopath, after loosing gallons of blood on the way, eventually realizes that they’ve fallen in love with nothing- with an empty soul.

Jungian analyst Craig Guggenbuehl warns that if you feel someone is marvelously tuned into you and makes you feel great, be suspicious, because sociopaths have these endearing people skills.  So if your real estate agent makes you feel absolutely wonderful and has all the right answers, it might be time to be cautious.  An agent who doesn’t know it all and appears more complicated might be a better choice.  It’s relaxing to be around certain sociopaths because you feel absolutely at ease. If you want to be free like this person or have the feeling that he or she fully ‘agrees with me’… Watch out!!

No vocation is safe from sociopaths; be it blue collar, white collar, professionals, politicians, preachers etc.  Just watch a session from Congress or turn on the religious TV channels, you’ll see plenty of them.  There are true sociopaths who compensate their sociopathy by extreme moralism – as some preachers, gurus or health professionals do.

None of us are pure.  Purity is irrational and fanatic.  All of us have a shadow as I’ve talked about so often in these articles.  Purity and decency are not the same!

Back to the hurtful and somewhat complicated emotion of guilt, of which sociopaths have none.  ‘True Guilt” is not a useless feeling…as a matter of fact it serves the individual and society.  Let’s assume the cashier at the market makes a mistake and gives me $10 bill instead of the $5 bill she owes me.  If I stash those $10 bucks in my pocket I will feel the painful emotion of guilt on my way home.  It is a signal that I have transgressed my own values and personal code of honor.  Guilt, then is a form of self-disappointment… we’ve fallen short and have failed our ideals.

Guilt is the most personal and internal of emotions…. it’s you against you.  All the significant battles are waged within the self.

From the soul perspective, guilt, even though highly personal, wants exposure.  How often have we all heard of the spouse who’s had an affair and leaves behind evidence – a phone number or lover’s note in the coat pocket, an e-mail not erased etc. Guilt needs expiation and forgiveness – only then can our souls breathe again freely and creatively.  Often we have to accept the punishment our guilty acts might incur.  Confessions obviously can be healing, but only when the attitude of atonement and remorse are present.  Guilt, from this viewpoint, becomes the guardian of our goodness…it serves the noblest and most generous character traits of our species.  (Gaylin M.D., 1979)

“False Guilt”, or neurotic guilt, is another matter and occurs when we transgress other people’s rules or values embedded in us, usually early in life, which are no longer appropriate.  For example, if we have an old rule that says  “I should always be nice and pleasant” we wind up in trouble, because life brings us situations when being “nice” is totally out of line and self-destructive, but the “nice” person feels guilt when he or she responds with anything but pleasantness.  False Guilt stops action…and often self-protection.  If we have another old rule that says, “I should never be angry” we set ourselves up for depression, anxiety, ulcers, digestive problems etc.  The ‘inner work’ sorts out true from false guilt, and therefore helps alleviate psychoneurotic symptoms.

Another form of “False Guilt’ is called ‘unearned guilt’ and goes like this… “If only I would have known then what I know now, I would have done things differently”.  The fact is that we didn’t know then what we know now and having pangs of guilt over that is a waste and unfair to oneself.  Finally, a word about the difference between guilt and shame.  Guilt occurs when we feel we have behaved badly.  Shame cuts much deeper- it’s not only that I’ve done something bad, but that “I am bad”.  More on this in another article. Knowledge can be gotten over the internet, but wisdom comes only through suffering!

As always love to Mother Meera, who represents the best of the Feminine to me… unconditional love, trust, peace and related dialogue.  One for all and all for one.

Peter Milhado © 2018

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