First of all, let us define what is a conscience and what is guilt, before considering what the signs are of a guilty conscience.
One’s conscience is the internal recognition of what is morally right and wrong. But a more developed definition that nearly answers your question is found in a glossary of psychology:
- Your conscience is what tells you whether an action is right or wrong. It is the reason you have guilt or remorse after doing something morally questionable, and the reason you feel relief or pride after telling the truth or giving to charity. It can also have an affect on decisions you are contemplating. If you just have a bad feeling about a possible action, your conscience may be telling you to choose otherwise. The sense of right and wrong is learned and deeply embedded, so someone with a very strict religious upbringing may have a more critical conscience than someone brought up with a looser moral compass.
An habitual liar has no conscience and can look you in the eye and claim s/he is going to help you in every way s/he can while thinking about how s/he can rip you off and increase her own wealth.
Politicians promise the world, but in reality mean the world that they promise you is not the world they have in mind for themselves.
Once a conscience is seared there is no feeling of guilt, therefore liars make good salesmen when talking to the fools of the world. But if a conscience is not seared, then a salesman with a conscience will not sell as much as one with a seared conscience. Pangs of conscience will bring him undone if he finds himself saying things with which he disagrees within himself or knows are not true.
A guilty conscience therefore is one that experiences pain when a person violates his or her internal code of what is right and what is wrong.
Importantly, it needs to be understood that there is a difference between a true conscience and a distorted conscience.
A true conscience lines up with the Ten Commandments, which is the standard of morality acceptable to the Creator.
A distorted conscience is one that is the modified to disregard the Ten Commandments and accept other standards that are right or wrong. Freud called this the superego:
- The division of the unconscious that is formed through the internalization of moral standards of parents and society, and that censors and restrains the ego.
- Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31–32)
Neurotic behavior results from unresolved anxiety and manifests in obsessive compulsive disorders, unsubstantiated fears, inhibited expression and development of abilities, feelings of depression and unworthiness, and the like. Essentially, violation of our conscience leads to anxiety, which is an unconscious fear of punishment for wrongs done. However, in many cases this inherent fear of punishment for doing what we know to be evil—therefore wrong—is misconstrued within our subconscious as punishment for not performing some perceived transgression.
Confession is not only good for the soul, it prevents people from suffering anxiety from a guilty conscience over real wrongs or perceived wrongs. Politicians are able to overcome their internalized anxiety by admitting that they have done wrong and by telling people they are going to shaft them, while they say they are going to benefit the voters—which is another example of a guilty conscience.
Another way people demonstrate they are guilty and are able to relieve the pain of their conscience is by re-framing their perception of events as they confess their guilt.
Say for instance, two parents killed their daughter and hid her. Typically, as do politicians, they will not answer questions directly but would re-frame the question by providing a different answer to another question, even though not asked.
For instance: Did you kill your daughter?
The natural response would be along the lines of:
- No. We want the person who knows where she is to bring her back to us.
- Whoever has killed our daughter knows where she is and if we know what has happened to her, we know we can have some closure.
Irrespective of who we are, until we completely sear our conscience in a three hundred and sixty degree manner, there will always be a little flicker of hope that some pang might cause us to acknowledge the truth. Nevertheless, anxiety is a tell-tale sign in some, but among the sophisticated, we have to listen carefully to what they are saying, for they know confession is good for the soul, and by indirect confession they relieve their feelings of guilt.
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