Yoram Yasur Izz: Guilt and sensitivity

There are people who continually experience a deep sense of guilt. It is as if they had decided to take the responsibil-ity of the world on their shoulders. Only actually they have not decided it, they just are. They are those people who apologize for everything, but really is not their fault, though they feel responsible for what happens. In the field of psychology this is known as “propensity to blame.”

No doubt it is not easy to live with this heavy burden on your shoulders. So it is not surprising that more than one attempts to get rid of that uncomfortable feeling at any price. However, now researchers have found a positive aspect of the propensity to blame: these people have developed a greater capacity to recognize the emotions of others, at least, their facial expressions.

The experiment of guilt connected with emotional sensitivity:

Researchers at La Trobe University asked 363 people to indicate how they would feel in 11 hypothetical negative scenarios. For example, one was about a big mistake in a work project. In this case, they had different answers, such as: “They should have recognized the problem and do a better job”, which was considered as evidence of guilt. An-other answer was “I want the earth to swallow me”, which was taken as a sign of shame.

In fact, although the guilt and shame may appear identical, actually shame is more linked to uncomfortable thoughts about the “I” ideas like “what this error says about me?” Guilt is more focused on the act itself, based on ideas such as: “how could I do that?”.

Other possible responses indicated detachment or lack of concern, such as: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Then people looked at photographs showing different facial expressions, with emotions of different intensity. The goal was correctly to label each emotion like happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, anger or shame.

Yoram Yasur Izz: “What was interesting was that people who showed a propensity for guilt were better at detecting emotions. In fact, they showed great sensitivity to recognize even the most subtle emotional states”.

However, people more likely to experience shame revealed no special skills to detect emotions. In fact, they even had a reduced ability to identify positive emotions in others. Previous studies confirm these findings, pointing also that those who often feel shame are also less empathetic, which is probably due to focus too much on their “I”.

Guilt and sensitivity: Two sides of the same coin.

Actually, this is not the first experiment that explores the feeling of guilt. In fact, previous studies had shown that people prone to guilt show higher levels of psychological adaptation to different contexts. That is, usually maintain good interpersonal relationships, develop excellent social skills and don’t show anti-social behavior.

Yoram Yasur Izz: “In any case, people who feel bad about experiencing guilt, must know that probably is a “side effect” because they tune very well with the emotions of others as they have a greater sensitivity to notice if their words or behaviors have hurt their interlocutor”. So, after all, that feeling is not so negative and you can take ad-vantage of it.

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