Guilt is that inner sense that we’ve done something wrong. Here you’ll find quite a variety of views of the usefulness, or not, of the emotion of guilt.

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No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.

— Alan Watts

If I had known they were going to do this, I would have become a shoemaker.

— Albert Einstein

Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.

— Aldous Huxley

I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful—it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

— Allison Krumsiek

Guilt is the one burden human beings can’t bear alone.

— Anais Nin

My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.

— Anna Sewell

When you are guilty, it is not your sins you hate but yourself.

— Anthony de Mello

Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.

— Audre Lorde

While schadenfreude may be fun to say and it’s an increasingly used term in the United States, it’s a tough emotion. There’s a cruelty and insecurity about it. Taking pleasure in someone else’s failings, even if that person is someone we really dislike, can violate our values and lead to feelings of guilt and shame. But, make no mistake, it’s seductive, especially when we’re sucked into groupthink.

— Brené Brown

The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad’.

— Brené Brown

There is a certain degree of satisfaction in having the courage to admit one’s errors. It not only clears up the air of guilt and defensiveness but often helps solve the problem created by the error.

— Dale Carnegie

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us.

— Eric Hoffer

The best slave does not need to be beaten. She beats herself.

— Erica Jong

Better guilt than the terrible burden of freedom and responsibility.

— Ernest Becker

We are sinful not merely because we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but also because we have not yet eaten of the Tree of Life.

— Franz Kafka

My guiding principle is this: Guilt is never to be doubted.

— Franz Kafka

Although the most acute judges of the witches and even the witches themselves, were convinced of the guilt of witchery, the guilt nevertheless was non-existent. It is thus with all guilt.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

The guilty think all talk is of themselves.

— Geoffrey Chaucer

Guilt, of course, is feeling bad about one’s actions, but shame is feeling bad about oneself.

— Greg Boyle

Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.

— Gretchen Rubin

I’m not interested in anybody’s guilt. Guilt is a luxury that we can no longer afford. I know you didn’t do it, and I didn’t do it either, but I am responsible for it because I am a man and a citizen of this country and you are responsible for it, too, for the very same reason… Anyone who is trying to be conscious must begin to dismiss the vocabulary which we’ve used so long to cover it up, to lie about the way things are.

— James Baldwin

Guilt or the feeling of guilt is our response to the realization that our action was morally wrong and that we are responsible for the consequences of this action.

— Janez Juhant

Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from plants that died long ago. We can give thanks to these ancestors of our present-day foliage, but we can’t give back to them. We can, however, give forward. When we are unable to return the favor, we can pay it forward to someone or something else. Using this approach, we can see ourselves as part of a larger flow of giving and receiving throughout time. Receiving from the past, we can give to the future. When tackling issues such as climate change, the stance of gratitude is a refreshing alternative to guilt or fear as a source of motivation.

— Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone

For every man who lives without freedom, the rest of us must face the guilt.

— Lillian Hellman, Watch on the Rhine, 1941

Every guilty person is his own hangman.

— Lucius Annaeus Seneca

When we use language which denies choice, e.g. words such as “should,” “have to,” “ought,” “must,” “can’t,” “supposed to,” etc., our behaviors arise out of a vague sense of guilt, duty, or obligation. I consider this to be the most socially dangerous and personally unfortunate of all the ways we act when we’re cut off from our needs.

— Marshall Rosenberg

The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Guilt is a profoundly conservative emotion and, as such, is not particularly useful for bringing about change. From a position of insecurity and guilt, people do not change or inspire others to change.

— Michael Kaufman

He showed the words ‘chocolate cake’ to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. ‘Guilt’ was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: ‘celebration.’

— Michael Pollan

There is no man so good that if he placed all his actions and thoughts under the scrutiny of the laws, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.

— Michel de Montaigne

What’s helped with saying no to others is asking myself first if I’m saying yes out of guilt or fear. If so, then it’s a polite no.

— Neil Strauss

I don’t want to forgive myself. That’s why I hate psychoanalysis I think if you’re guilty of something you should live with it. Get rid of it – how can you get rid of a real guilt? I think people should live with it, face up to it.

— Orson Welles

When we scratch the wound and give into our addictions we do not allow the wound to heal.

— Pema Chödrön

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

— Rabbi Tarfon, Talmud

If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.

— Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Guilt is one of those emotions that feeds on itself. With every bite it gets a little heavier.

— Robert E. Dunn

We may not all be equally guilty. But we are all equally responsible for building a decent and just society.

— Ruby Bridges

Evil originates not in the absence of guilt; but in our effort to escape it.

— Shannon L. Alder

For those of you who struggle with guilt regarding self-care, answer this question: What greater gift can you give to those you love than your own wholeness?

— Shannon Tanner

Guilt management can be just important as time management for mothers.

— Sheryl Sandberg

Defending the truth is not something one does out of a sense of duty or to allay guilt complexes, but is a reward in itself.

— Simone de Beauvoir

If you make someone feel guilty about their mistake, then you have not forgiven them. That guilt is itself punishment.

— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Let him who is without guilt cast the first stone. It’s a trap. Because then he will be no longer without guilt.

— Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Let today mark a new beginning for you. Give yourself permission to say NO without feeling guilty, mean, or selfish. Anybody who gets upset and/or expects you to say YES all of the time clearly doesn’t have your best interest at heart. Always remember: You have a right to say NO without having to explain yourself. Be at peace with your decisions.

— Stephanie Lahart

The human capacity for guilt is such that people can always find ways to blame themselves.

— Stephen Hawking

To show resentment at a reproach is to acknowledge that one may have deserved it.

— Tacitus

Those who have experienced the most, have suffered so much that they have ceased to hate. Hate is more for those with a slightly guilty conscience, and who by chewing on old hate in times of peace wish to demonstrate how great they were during the war.

— Thor Heyerdahl

Guilt is also a way for us to express to others that we are a person of good conscience.

— Tom Hodgkinson

Being honest about our feelings is the best way to begin. Never allow guilt to rule, because guilt is a wasted emotion.

— Victoria Giraud
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