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Firestone, R.W. (1987). The “Voice”: The Dual Nature of Guilt Reactions. Am. J. Psychoanal., 47(3):210-229.

(1987). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 47(3):210-229

The “Voice”: The Dual Nature of Guilt Reactions

Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D.

Human beings spend their lives in a restricted range of personal relationships and experiences. Their freedom and initiative are constricted by a self-destructive process. Furthermore, their internal conflict is primarily unconscious, and they are generally unaware of the circle of guilt that limits them.

Guilt reactions are mediated by an internal thought process or dialogue referred to here as the “voice.” The voice is a system of negative thoughts, antithetical to the self, that plays a major part in human suffering and significantly limits an individual's goal-directed behavior. The voice represents the introjected negative thoughts and hostile attitudes of one's parents, and it ranges from unconscious or subliminal to fully conscious. The form and substance of experience that people permit themselves is regulated by this system of self-accusatory thoughts and injunctions. To whatever degree these self-critical thoughts remain unconscious, they cause considerable damage, and the individual is unable to break the cycle.

The “voice” of the so-called normal or neurotic individual is directly analogous to the hallucinated voices of the schizophrenic person. The content of these voices, when analyzed, reveals the same regulatory process and is characterized by the same hostility and vindictiveness toward the self.

The concept of guilt refers to an insidious process of self-limitation and self-hatred that seriously restricts people's lives. Out of a sense of guilt, people become self-denying, self-defeating, self-destructive, and even suicidal. The “voice” represents the thought process underlying the behavior noted above.

Neurotic and Existential Guilt

There are two distinguishable forms of guilt that create a basic conflict in each individual: neurotic guilt and existential guilt.

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