Imagine someone is walking down the street, and suddenly, a $100 bill falls out of their wallet. What should the stranger behind them do? Should they slyly stash it in their pocket or quickly return it to the wandering stranger ahead?
Before deciding, the brain will continuously weigh the options, choosing between what one’s conscious sees as good or bad. These underlying questions on what is perceived to be good or bad comes from the conscious mind. At this time, one may be asking questions like, “Is this okay to do? Am I doing the right thing? Are the consequences worth it?”.
During a time of action, the conscious mind is in control of the individual’s feelings. At first, one may weigh the possible actions or determine the consequences of that action. However, every decision or event will inevitably spark feelings. When negative feelings, like guilt, arises in a situation, the conscious mind tends to try to get rid of that feeling as quickly as possible. The conscious mind doesn’t like to feel guilt, but it goes further than the conscious state. Although responsibility is defined as a feeling of regret or shame, the blame goes much deeper than the textbook definition.
As humans, we are continually trying to be better people than we were yesterday. When guilt creeps in, the conscious is not the only part of the brain that is affected. The subconscious mind is what holds one’s beliefs, core memories, thoughts, and morals. In a situation where guilt or shame is the primary emotion, one’s morals are the underlying force of action. Using morals from the subconscious mind as a secondary guidance system causes one to make decisions that they perceive to be the “better” choice.
“There have been many situations where I have felt guilty because of the decision I made. I think I tend to feel guilty during stressful circumstances because my mind is so overwhelmed. My gut feeling is usually telling me what to do at that moment,” said sophomore Kellie McGuinness.
McGuinness explained that a “gut feeling” she experiences during stressful situations reflects her mind becoming overwhelmed. That feeling is also referred to as the subconscious mind. As humans, we are only aware of our conscious mind. However, the brain deals with emotions in both the conscious and subconscious. Feelings like guilt stem from the subconscious mind because underlying “gut feeling” makes one feel obligated to make decisions. Whereas in the conscious mind, one is quick to take action, and decisions are made primarily off one’s logic.
Think of the human brain as an iceberg. The conscious mind is represented by the ice above the water, the part of the iceberg that we can see. In contrast, the subconscious mind is the immense iceberg below the surface that is not visible and under the surface. Like an iceberg, the conscious mind only shows a small portion of the information that is known to the mind. The subconscious is the powerhouse of information unknown to the rest of the mind. Only about 5% of the brain is conscious, while about 95% of the reason is the subconscious mind.
Humans hate to feel bad about themselves and will do whatever they can to relieve the mind of those negative thoughts. However, it is okay to feel guilty about things. It’s okay to feel shameful or wrong about one’s self. The conscious and subconscious minds work together to pinpoint that feeling and eliminate them.
Whether it’s deciding to take or return a $100 bill or a simple everyday task, the brain is continuously working and changing. In a way, humans are just selective and unique minds that possess all different thoughts and ideas wrapped around a body. Morals and ethics are individual to our perception of life, but the brain is all-powerful.
There are many aspects of the subconscious that cause behavior reinforcement. When deciding on events based on behavior, the conscious mind is quick to determine the action. However, the subconscious is responsible for all thought and reason put into a decision.
The brain’s limbic system obtains all executive functions concerning thought development, emotion, feeling, and memory. Though the story continues to develop and change throughout the teenage and adult years. Like the limbic system, many other regions of the brain control behavior. The ability to form strong connections with people is one of the primary purposes of life. Being able to maintain those connections is what lies farther beneath the surface.
Maggie Waung, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), said, “That’s the cool thing about the brain; we can change what and how we think. The connections between different parts of the brain allow us to control and alter our body’s reactions to different emotions. Some brain sections are responsible for feelings like guilt, but what is important is how they work together.”
Scientists established reasons as to why the brain handles emotion the way it does. The brain consists of four working lobes – the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and occipital lobe.
The frontal lobe is the leading executive controller; it’s responsible for the brain’s expression of movement and language interpretation. These significant lobes of the brain are administrative controllers of the overall function of the brain. It is allowing the management of human actions to be controlled.
The brain’s other lobes work together to determine to lasting effects feelings will have on the person. The lobes store all of the information caused by emotion, and feel like guilt can be detrimental to the brain. Therapists say that negative emotions tend to not resonate well in the mind because they can cause damage to one’s self-image.
According to Debbie Conliffe, a marriage family therapist, “Guilt or shame comes from the conscious, which lies in the frontal lobes. Those feelings may be the cause of humans’ expression of judgment. Someone’s judgment of another can make someone continue to feel a certain way about themselves, leading the brain to be trained to think that way. Actions such as lying, cheating, or even stealing can be bad for the brain. Guilt leads one to think about oneself poorly, which leads to one’s lack of self-confidence.”
The mind can become polluted with negative thoughts and manifestations. When the subconscious is trained to think negatively, this leads to an insecure self-image. That 5% of the conscious mind consists of thoughts and the mind’s well-being, which significantly affects how one may view themself and determine situations.
When performing a “guilty” act, like stealing, lying, betrayal, and so on, guilt may affect self-image and confidence. Self-image and confidence become negatively affected after a constant feeling of shamefulness and thinking of oneself poorly. A standard method used in therapy to deal with negative thoughts is just accepting those feelings and finding the source of it all. Re-training the mind to think positively to create a health-conscious and confident mindset.
Sophomore Madeline Chu said, “When I experience guilt, it can affect my self-confidence. I’ll begin to second guess myself and judge what I do or say, which usually makes me feel bad. This feeling can drag on for a while, and it sometimes makes my self-confidence decrease.
Chu explained how her feelings of guilt make her think poorly of herself. According to a blog from Mind Path Care Centers, guilt can combine with feelings of emotion such as anxiety, shame, humiliation, and frustration. If humans don’t admit that they are at fault, these emotions can build up over time, causing low self-image.
In addition to the feelings of emotion building up, the guilt in humans’ minds can also give off feelings of unhappiness, which lay self-punishment and self-pity on a person causing their self-esteem to go down. Psychology has determined that these feelings can be developed by oneself or brought by others.
Furthermore, human behavior stems from the conscience and unconscious mind. Generally, the conscious human mind can decide based on what that individual views as “good” and “bad.” The brain’s subconscious is unknown to the conscious mind; the conscious mind lies so far back in the brain only core memories and personality lie there. The known information in the conscious mind holds all of the desires or wants and recent memories. The conscious mind is in control.
Conliffe explained, “The conscious is more self-aware of its behaviors. And when one is feeling guilt, I tell them the feeling of guilt is a useless emotion. I try to help them get rid of those feelings by having them accept and identify those feelings.”
However, not every brain works the same. Studies have shown that people diagnosed with psychological personality disorders have significant differences in how their brains are wired. While we know that the conscious and subconscious minds handle emotions
Some are incapable of feeling a specific emotion or controlling different behaviors. Therefore, those people have a more challenging time controlling their actions and decisions than a normally functioning brain. So when looking at a brain with psychotic tendencies or mental strains, that person may not healthily handle their negative feelings.
For example, people clinically diagnosed as psychopaths have weaker connections with the part of the brain responsible for emotions like empathy and guilt. They are thus explaining the impulsive and sometimes inappropriate behavior expressed by psychopaths.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison compared two different scans of the brain. One from a psychopath and one from a non-psychopath. Their studies show that Psychopaths Brains Show Differences in Structure and Function. This article explains how both sides of the brain’s structural fibers show less activity from a psychopath than a non-psychopath. Psychopaths tend to have significant impulse control issues and poor judgment in character. They are proving how some mentally ill people tend to make impulsive and reckless decisions.
How do different brains respond to guilt? A question often asked by many health professionals. Some brains are incapable of making a negative connection to feelings like guilt—this structure is shown to be in people’s brains like sociopaths. Not to be confused with psychopaths, their characteristics are very different. However, despite their differences, they share a commonality.
Sociopaths are people with a personality disorder where they cannot feel guilt or remorse for others. They mimic the emotions that they are incapable of feeling. Their lack of consciousness is what separates them from psychopaths. However, psychopaths also do not feel guilt or shame. When the brain is not functioning correctly, this is when it is easy to spot them out. Sociopaths and psychopaths have different behavioral tendencies due to the structural finders in their brains, not allowing them to feel guilt.
“Guilt is a useless emotion,” Conliffe likes to say. She says that feelings like guilt and shame are potent, and these emotions can linger in the back of one’s mind and subconsciously take control.
Anyone can feel guilt. Being aware of one’s guilt is truly important to a guilty mind—determining if it’s the conscious or subconscious mind that is guilty. When the conscious mind is full of negative self-thought, it causes those negative feelings to manifest themselves in the self-aware mind; the conscious. Thus, creating a dangerous and self-destructive subconscious.
Regardless of one’s mental state, the conscious mind is familiar with the known sense. When guilt and shame linger, the effects will continue to show through one’s decisions and actions. If both subconscious and conscious minds are intoxicated with guilt, the conscious will inevitably have the longing that affects a guilty conscious.