Chapter 10: The Power of Guilt

It was really interesting to me that Messner was insisting that the generals surrender that day, that it was urgent the generals needed to come to some sort of an agreement right then. I think that Messner knew of the plan to infiltrate the home and kill the terrorists. I found it interesting that they spoke about the toll this situation has taken on him. The only guy on the outside was looking worse while everyone inside the walls were happy and actually “living”. Also, I noticed that Messner would make comments like they’d be put in jail “at best”. Messner did grow fond of all in the home and saw that they were people with lives, families and good qualities. He was trying to warn them without giving the plans away of the attack. After the realization of the many hints throughout this chapter I became interested in guilt. What is it, how it works, the power it holds, and the physical and mental effects of guilt.

To begin my research I wanted to have a working definition of guilt. While many of us understand the idea of guilt and can relate to the feeling I wanted a better understanding of the term on a more intellectual level.’s defines guilt as “the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law and a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.” Further research led me to many theories and notions of guilt. Guilt is commonly categorized with shame but it is not the same. Guilt is an internalized system of moral conscience and comes from a negative evaluation of your own actions. While shame, is not full internalized and is more of a painful condemnation of your whole self (Giner-Sorolla 103). A theory says guilt is a fundamental emotion. The experience of guilt, like experience of fear, is unlearned (Izard 355). When thinking back to the situation of Messner and why I believe he was experiencing guilt is solidified with learning that sadness and fear are likely to be significant motivations in the guilt situation (Izard 358). Understanding guilt on a physiological level leads me to wondering the physical effects guilt has on us.

Along with a large impact on your mental health and overall happiness guilt can have detrimental effects to your physical health. Many studies have shown that guilt affects many areas of your health. Scientists have proven that guilt compromises the immune system. In a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, test subjects were asked to write about traumatic experiences for which they felt guilt. They were assessed before and after for two substances associated with immune system activity–tumor necrosis factor receptor levels and 2-microglobulin–as well as cortisol, the stress hormone. After the test, participants showed elevated levels of all three substances (Nani 1). Guilt can make someone self-destructive along with making them do things such as try hard to make things right by overworking and over-giving in an attempt to make everyone happy, ignore your needs and desires in order to avoid upsetting others, become emotionally closed off and only able to see the negative aspects of life, and many others. The most common result of guilt is anxiety and depression. In an attempt to escape these negative emotions, the guilty person will often choose to deny, disown or repress their guilt by trying to forget about the event/action/thought that caused their guilt to occur in the first place. (EruptingMind). Physical affects associated with anxiety and depression are: problems sleeping, exhaustion/fatigue, irritability, the list goes on and on (Orenstein 1). It seems that in extreme cases guilt can cause many issues within our lives. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what is causing your guilt to return to a health state of mind and body.

In conclusion, guilt is a multi-faceted psychological emotion we all face at some point. Guilt can put a lot of stress on us emotionally which can lead to a list of negative physical effects. Throughout this class I have became really interested in psychology and why we are the way we are and why we need or feel particular ways. Guilt is a really interesting topic to me especially since it was stated that is in a fundamental unlearned emotion. I experience guilt frequently and I enjoy learning why I act and respond to particular situations.


Izard, Carroll E. The Psychology of Emotions. New York: Plenum, 1991.

Nani, Christel. “Feeling Bad: The Health Risks of Guilt.” New Connexion,   Pacific Northwest’s Journal of Conscious Living. Alternative Health, 1 May 2007. 18 Nov. 2015.

Orenstein, Beth. “Physical Symptoms of Depression.” 16 Sept. 2011. 18 Nov. 2015.

Sorolla, Roger. Judging Passions: Moral Emotions in Persons and Groups. London: Psychology, 2012.

“Understanding the Psychology of Guilt.” Understanding the Psychology of Guilt. 18 Nov. 2015.


3 thoughts on “Chapter 10: The Power of Guilt

  1. hcelemen says:

    It is interesting that you focused most on Messner in this chapter because we sometimes forget how significant of a factor he is in smoothing the process of negotiations. His sudden deterioration in health is quite disconcerting and shows a parallel of how bad the terrorists were going to have it coming. I believe that his guilt is largely due to his sense of responsibility towards the hostages and the terrorists. Furthermore, he is burdened by the knowledge he had about the government’s plans meant that he had the capacity to warn them, which he did without fail but with no luck.

    It is really interesting how guilt and stress can play into each other. In order to lessen the consequences of guilt, the person must face their fears. Sometimes, I don’t realize that guilt can be the reason that I may do things considered as overcompensating. I found it interesting that you said that it’s a “fundamentally unlearned emotion”. Excessive guilt causing the person to deny their guilt also plays very well into my topic of “emotional detachment”. Detachment may also be a result of guilt By denying their guilt would the person therefore find himself not only ignoring the issue but disconnecting from everything or everyone involved? It would be interesting to find studies that find a correlation between guilt and detachment. Would the effects of detaching one’s self from others due to guilt then result in worsened mental and physical effects? It would also be interesting to know if guilt is related to our sense of altruism. Is guilt something we developed through evolution in order to ensure survival of others in our group?

    Overall, thank you for the very informative post! I think it was a great way to better reflect on our actions.


  2. slaudeman says:

    Hi Katelyn,
    You have picked a very interesting topic. I think that it is especially intriguing to think about the way that Messner reacted to the stress he was put under in the final chapter. His struggle to impart a sense of urgency in the generals in light of the impending attack, and then the sense of defeat that he is shrouded with when he leaves, opens questions about the nature of guilt. I think that you addressed those questions very well in your post. It is important to note, as you did, that guilt is something many people experience. I think that it is useful to realize that we can learn from guilt. That is, perhaps, another facet of research you could follow on this topic. You talked about the physiological side effects of guilt, but I think that there is a lot to be said for guilt as a learning experience. Your conclusion reflects your interest in learning more about this. When we feel guilt, we feel as if we have neglected to do something we should have done. It is a sense of failed responsibility, in many ways. In my personal experience, guilt creates a drive to solve the issue causing it. I do not know if that is a general reaction, but I think that the psychology of learning from guilt could be very interesting to learn more about. Concurrently, by learning how to cope with guild and understanding how you can learn from your guilt, that might make it easier to achieve the healthy state of mind that you reference.
    -Sara L.


  3. Colin Murphy says:

    Hi Katelyn,

    Thanks for your very informing contribution to our class blog! You’ve definitely done an excellent job of analyzing an interpretation behind Messner’s actions, wording, and figure changes throughout the novel. It’s now certainly clear that Messner was quite informed on how the government planed to counter the hostage situation. If only he was able to convince the generals to surrender or reach some form of an agreement!

    Your topic is particularly interesting to me because it pertains to my paper: Stress and Cancer. Studying the physical effects of a mental mindset is what our research has in common. You’ve done a great job mapping out the field and I encourage you to push just a bit further in search of a narrow focus. Perhaps you might choose to research the more specific relationship between guilt and sleep cycles? You mention the effect guilt has on sleep in your research, but only briefly. Does guilt affect the duration of REM sleep, or the time it takes to reach this state? Does guilt affect an individual on a subconscious level during sleep?

    I particularly found your research on the stress hormone interesting. Could all of the physical affects associated with high stress levels also relate to guilt? If so, some other physical side-effects of guilt could include cancer, heart disease, and an overall decreased lifespan.

    Again, you’ve a lot of great research here on your topic. I encourage you to focus in just a bit more on a topic that interests you to dig a little deeper. I look forward to hearing your final class presentation next month!

    – Colin


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