I was reading my colleague Lynne Holdem’s Blog on guilt and forgiveness this afternoon and as Lynne referred to a conversation we had a couple of years ago I thought I would comment.
As it happens I had been reading the first chapter of Roy Schafer’s book “Bad Feelings” (2002) and also a paper by him “Taking/Including Pleasure in the Experienced Self” (2006) and thinking about guilt in this context so I thought I would post my response to Lynne here as well:
“Thanks for letting me know about this Lynne! It makes great reading and I enjoyed remembering our conversation about guilt and Klein.
I was thinking and reading about guilt this afternoon and following up a reference to “borrowed” guilt.
In “The Ego and the Id” 1923, Freud writes a footnote (p.50):
“The battle with the obstacle of an unconscious sense of guilt is not made easy for the analyst. Nothing can be done against it directly, and nothing indirectly but the slow procedure of unmasking its unconscious repressed roots, and of this gradually changing it into a conscious sense of guilt. One has a special opportunity for influencing it when this unconscious sense of guilt is a “borrowed”one – when it is the production of an identification with some other person who was once the object of an erotic cathexis. A sense of guilt that has been adopted in this way is often the sole remaining trace of the abandoned love-relation and not at all easy to recognise as such.”
Freud goes on to make a link with the process of mourning and how a failure to mourn may lead to melancholia – or what we would probably describe as depression today.
I think there is something about our abandoned erotic relation with our planet, Mother-Earth, that is links with our collective sense of guilt. As you suggest, we need to find a way to mourn the damage we have done and to become conscious of our guilt, in order to move forward as a species.
On another not so very different note, I had forgotten how tenaciously we may cling to “bad feelings” and place ourselves in the way of “punishments” by way of assuaging our unconscious guilt feelings. As Roy Schafer puts it in the first chapter of his book “Bad Feelings” 2002, “… in that way both enjoying relief from guilt and confirming …” our “… reassuring and pleasurable unconscious fantasies of omnipotent control” (p.1)
All in all unconscious guilt is a powerful force in shaping our lives.
Thanks again for your thoughts and the reminder of our conversation a while ago.
I also wanted to thank Lynne for referring me to the review of “Schopenhauer’s Porcupines” which I thoroughly enjoyed.