Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Acronyms, Idioms, Wikipedia.
Related to guilt: gilt


in psychology, a term denoting an unpleasant feeling associated with unfulfilled wishes. Sigmund FreudFreud, Sigmund
, 1856–1939, Austrian psychiatrist, founder of psychoanalysis. Born in Moravia, he lived most of his life in Vienna, receiving his medical degree from the Univ. of Vienna in 1881.

His medical career began with an apprenticeship (1885–86) under J.
..... Click the link for more information.
 initially contended that sexual drives produce sense of guilt in the superego, the moral conscience of the mind. He later maintained, however, that guilt was associated with aggressive impulses. Freud felt that guilt was often confused with remorse, the former being an emotion signaling the presence of aggressive wishes, the latter a self-imposed punishment which occurs if the aggressive wish is fulfilled. Individuals suffering from various neurotic disorders may experience feelings of guilt and remorse even when they have not acted on their aggressive impulses. The term guilt is most commonly used in traditional psychoanalysis, as a way of describing unconscious processes which may lead to neurotic reactions. It is also used in criminal law, in cases where a defendant is found to be responsible for the crime for which he is on trial.


See L. Wurmser, The Mask of Shame (1981).



in law. Guilt usually covers the inner, subjective aspect of a harmful or socially dangerous action or nonfeasance that violates a legal norm. It refers to the psychological relationship of a person to the nature of the act he commits and its consequences. On this level the concept of guilt includes intent and negligence. In criminal law it sometimes also includes the motive, aim, and other elements of the subjective aspect of a crime.

Soviet criminal legislation offers definitions of intent and negligence (Principles of Criminal Legislation of the USSR and the Union Republics of 1958, arts. 8 and 9) that are also commonly used in other branches of law in the analysis of these concepts. A crime is considered to have been committed intentionally if the person who committed it was aware of the socially dangerous nature of his action or nonfeasance and foresaw its socially dangerous consequences and desired them or consciously allowed them to happen. In this definition the desire for the consequences is usually called specific intent. Consciously allowing the occurrence of the consequences is called general intent. In this case, the person does not stand to gain from the socially dangerous consequences; he foresees the possibility of their occurrence but nevertheless commits the criminal act. With respect to circumstances that are part of the «corpus delicti but do not belong to the category of consequences (for instance, unusual cruelty in the method of killing), intent is expressed in an awareness of the circumstances and is not further divided into specific and general intent. In defining individual intentional crimes, the legislator often narrows the sphere of accusation (impleading) by including in the text of the law special instructions on particular psychological connections with individual elements of a given corpus delicti. For example, defamation (Criminal Code of the RFSFR, art. 130) presupposes a knowledge that the fabrications defaming another person are false—that is, a crime is committed if the person spreading defamatory information about another person knows (and is not merely aware) that this information does not correspond to reality.

A crime is considered to have been committed through negligence if the person who committed it foresaw the possibility of the socially dangerous consequences of his action or nonfeasance but thoughtlessly hoped that they would be averted (so-called criminal conceit). It is also considered to have been committed through negligence if the person failed to foresee the possibility of the consequences of an act, although he could and should have foreseen them (so-called criminal negligence). Conceit comes close to intent, since both concepts presuppose foreseeing the consequences; however, conceit is characterized by the expectation of some actual circumstances (action of the guilty person himself or other persons, forces of nature, and so forth) that should have prevented the occurrence of the socially dangerous result. A person’s guilt, which substantiates the condemnation of his behavior and his responsibility of the harm caused, lies in the fact that this expectation turns out to be thoughtless; had he shown greater attention, the guilty person would have had different expectations or would have refrained from committing the act. Negligence is characterized by a person’s failure to foresee the possibility of the occurrence of consequences; however, being aware or being obliged to be aware of the socially dangerous nature of his action or nonfeasance, he should therefore have foreseen its socially dangerous consequences. Moreover, in order to substantiate the responsibility for negligence, it must be established that by virtue of his individual traits and work experience or in view of the circumstances of a specific case, a person could have foreseen the occurrence of the consequences. If in the absence of negligence in the acts there is an accident, prosecution is excluded.

The principle of impleading only when there is guilt is not universally applied in law, including Soviet law. Thus, article 454 of the Civil Code of the RSFSR obliges the owner of a source of special danger (for example, an automobile) to compensate for the harm caused by such a source in all cases where the owner cannot prove that the harm arose as a consequence of an act of god or the intent of the victim. At the same time, guilt is not always identified with the subjective aspect of a crime in the theory of criminal law; it is sometimes treated as the fact of the commission of a crime—an offense of a person against the state or the people.

In literature different meanings are sometimes attached to the concept of guilt. For example, guilt may be interpreted as a necessary subjective element of crime (so-called narrow guilt) or as the general substantiation of a person’s legal responsibility—his guilt in the commission of a violation of the law (so-called broad guilt).




Guilt can carry over into sleep and induce anxiety when we experience it in our dreams. Survivor guilt often surfaces in the dreams of military veterans and in civilians who experienced a traumatic accident that they survived while someone close to them did not. They often ask why they made it through and feel guilty because someone else lost his or her life or was seriously injured, even though the dreamer was not responsible. These feelings are carried over into the dream state; often, the dreamer replays the events in his or her mind over and over in vivid detail. Sometimes the subconscious will modify the dream so that the survivor takes the place of the victim, or other, similar, variations occur. Repeating nightmares is a major symptom of the anxiety neurosis caused by a deep emotional trauma. The guilt experienced in these dreams is often accompanied by grief and anger.

Sexual feelings—particularly sexual attractions at variance with social norms such as adultery, homosexuality, and incestuous desires—can also cause guilt that leads to anxiety dreams. Sex in dreams or nightmares often represents a more complex aspect of our personalities—something more than simply our attitudes and our desires for the act of sex itself. In other words, in these kinds of dreams sexual relations can be symbolic of other issues; they don’t always represent a straightforward desire for physical relations.

Guilt can also manifest in dreams when the dreamer is feeling anxious about her or his “shadow self.” Our shadow is the neglected or repressed part of each of us. It is common to refrain from confronting this aspect of our personality out of fear of what we might discover about ourselves. It can stem from insecurities about how we feel we are viewed by society or how we might or might not fit into what is acceptable or “normal.” The guilt associated with this “shadow self” tends to cause an individual to develop a second personality to hide the traits that he or she feels are unacceptable. Some symbolism regarding this dual self can be manifested in dreams. These dreams of “false-self” are most common when dealing with repressed personality traits.


Law responsibility for a criminal or moral offence deserving punishment or a penalty
References in classic literature ?
If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.
That, if it were in the nature of traitorous ways to thrive (which happily it never was), the real wickedness and guilt of his business might have remained undiscovered.
My stripes were sore and stiff, and made me cry afresh, when I moved; but they were nothing to the guilt I felt.
The pale young gentleman's nose had stained my trousers, and I tried to wash out that evidence of my guilt in the dead of night.
Ingaging me to emulate, but short Of thy perfection, how shall I attaine, ADAM, from whose deare side I boast me sprung, And gladly of our Union heare thee speak, One Heart, one Soul in both; whereof good prooff This day affords, declaring thee resolvd, Rather then Death or aught then Death more dread Shall separate us, linkt in Love so deare, To undergoe with mee one Guilt, one Crime, If any be, of tasting this fair Fruit, Whose vertue, for of good still good proceeds, Direct, or by occasion hath presented This happie trial of thy Love, which else So eminently never had bin known.
Guilt there must be there is guilt even in thy living to tell it.
In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.
She may be saved by your efforts, by your resource and fortitude bearing up against the heavy weight of guilt and failure.
But suppose the worst: you have no right to say that the guilt of her crime lies with him, and that he ought to bear the punishment.
The horror of a mind like Fanny's, as it received the conviction of such guilt, and began to take in some part of the misery that must ensue, can hardly be described.
The fact of Desertion I will not dispute; But its guilt, as I trust, is removed(So far as related to the costs of this suit) By the Alibi which has been proved.
No remembrance of Reginald, no consciousness of guilt, gave one look of embarrassment; she was in excellent spirits, and seemed eager to show at once by ever possible attention to her brother and sister her sense of their kindness, and her pleasure in their society.