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Guilt is an emotion experienced by people who believe they have done something wrong. In criminal law, guilt is the condition of having committed an offense or crime, regardless of how one feels about it. The opposite of guilt is innocence.

Guilt as an emotion[edit]

Dr Sanity's Shame vs. Guilt Culture Matrix.

Guilty feelings are also called "pangs of conscience". See also shame and contrition (remorse).

Guilty feelings may cause:

  • the wish to make the wrong undone
  • the wish and willingness to "pay" for the offense, e.g. by accepting punishment
  • the resolution to never do it again

There are two kinds of guilt: valid guilt and invalid guilt. The latter is felt when a person believes they have done a wrong, but actually they are not guilty (e.g. because it was actually somebody else's, or nobody's, guilt). Often, it is debatable who is to blame for something. For example, suppose a small child breaks a vase in a store. Who is guilty - the child that has done it, the child's parent who has not properly supervised his child and is legally responsible, or the shopkeeper who has put the vase in an unsafe place where it is easily knocked over?

Intense, prolonged feelings of guilt that can not be extinguished (e.g. being responsible for another person's death) can have a massive negative impact on a person's life.

Guilt and penance[edit]

In some Christian denominations, such as Catholicism, believers can rid themselves from the guilt of committed sins through the sacrament of penance. This includes confession, doing the actual penance, and forgiveness. The process and result, especially when accompanied by strong emotions, is also called catharsis ("purification").

Note that the sacrament of penance by itself relates only to the spiritual aspects of guilt, not necessarily to the emotional guilt felt - and never to any legal guilt.

Guilt as a legal condition[edit]

In criminal law, guilt to have committed an offense is the precondition for punishment. As long as an accused has not been found guilty, he is considered innocent and can not be punished. This principle is known as in dubio pro reo.

Through being found guilty, the person becomes a delinquent. After the punishment is complete, the guilt is accepted to be cleared and there must not be any further punishment.

Mainstream and fetish films[edit]

In the independent film Adrift in Manhattan (2007), a troubled woman (Heather Graham) consumed by guilt over the death of her son, seduces a young man. During sex, she begs him to spank her hard while telling her she's a bad mother. (Video clip at xHamster.)

The two-part Jennifer's Punishments ( is a reality spanking video series about a girl with a guilty past who requested to be severely punished for her misdeeds.

See also[edit]