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Alexander, F. (1938). Remarks about the Relation of Inferiority Feelings to Guilt Feelings. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 19:41-49.

(1938). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 19:41-49

Remarks about the Relation of Inferiority Feelings to Guilt Feelings

Franz Alexander

It is no exaggeration to say that there are no other emotional reactions that play such a permanent and central rôle in the dynamic explanations of psychopathological phenomena as guilt feelings and inferiority feelings. Since guilt feelings can be considered as a variety of anxiety—fear of conscience—their outstanding significance in psychopathology is self-evident, anxiety being generally recognized as a central issue. The importance of inferiority feelings becomes on the other hand obvious if one thinks of the close relation to envy, competitiveness and ambition. In our literature inferiority feelings and guilt feelings are often dealt with rather summarily as more or less parallel manifestations of a tension between certain ideals and the actual personality, as a kind of tension between what one is and what one would like to be, between what one does and feels and what one should do or feel. In structural terms we speak of tension between Superego or ego-ideal and ego, and consider both inferiority and guilt feelings as different but very closely related expressions of this same tension.

In the following I will try to demonstrate that in spite of the fact that in structural terms inferiority feelings and guilt feelings can be described with the same formula as a tension between ego and ego-ideal they are fundamentally different psychological phenomena, and as a rule their dynamic effect upon behaviour is opposite. Individuals under the pressure of guilt feelings are apt to behave, with their factors remaining the same, in an opposite way than under the pressure of inferiority feelings. I go so far as to call these two types of reactions dynamic antagonists, comparable in physiology with the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems or with extensor muscles and contractors.

In making certain generalizations about the relationship of inferiority feelings and guilt feelings to each other, I shall use the method of approach which seems to me most promising in describing psychodynamic correlations.

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