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Excessive guilt causes us to supress our needs and desires

As an example of how the ‘guilt’ mechanism develops, Sullivan recounts of a situation in which he is doing maintenance on the engine of his car.  If he screws a bolt the wrong way, it will not thread properly and he is likely to end up dropping the bolt and it will fall throught the engine onto the ground below the car.  He then has to haul himself under the car in order to retrieve the bolt.  This, Sullivan points out, is likely to only happen 2 or 3 times before the annoyance of having to get under the car to retrieve the bolt, will serve to remind him that he must turn the bolt clockwise rather than anti-clockwise, in order to stop it from falling under the car.  In essance, if a negative event occurs every time we engage in a certain behaviour, we may quickly learn not to engage in this behaviour.  In a similar manner, if a parent becomes angry with a child every time she engages in a behaviour, the child may begin to experience anxiety before engaging in that behaviour.  And, Sullivan believes, this is how guilt operates, since, for children, the need for their primary carers to be happy with them is of central importance to her sense of self-worth.  If a child constantly senses that her primary carers are displeased with her, this is likely to generate significant anxiety in an infant.  If this anxiety occurs surrounding an excessive number of behaviours, a strong sense of ‘guilt’ may develop surrounding engaging in behaviours that are likely to upset significant others. 

A persistant sense of ‘Guilt’ can therefore cause us to suppress many of our desires

If a parent has tended to become annoyed with her child when the child engages in many behaviours that in actuality are not likely to cause much harm to others, this may result in a child becoming very anxious surrounding engaging in numerous behaviours that are actually pretty harmless.  If this occurs, it may well be that the child grows up to suppress many of her desires due to experiencing ‘guilt’ surrounding engaging in numerous behaviours concerning which she need not feel guilt.  As has already been outlined, Psychoanalytic theory proposes that there is a limit to how many of our desires and needs can be suppressed before we begin to become overloaded by our constant attempts to quell our desires and needs.  An overly strong sense of ‘guilt’, therefore, accompanying too many of our actions, can end up leading to over-suppression of desires and needs, and this can lead to anxiety and even neurotic symptoms, if taken to an extreme.