The most common cause of guilt is lying or not telling the truth. This is especially true up to middle age. But after age 45, the guilt more often revolves around not having spent enough time with family or not being there for them enough. This is reported by Tobias Luck from the Erfurt University of Applied Sciences and Claudia Luck-Sikorski from the SRH University of Applied Sciences in Gera in the specialist journal “BMC Psychology”.

In an online survey, the psychologist and his colleague asked almost 900 adults whether they currently or ever suffered from feelings of guilt. Around one in four said yes.

On average, the respondents gave two to three reasons – women slightly more than men. The around 1,500 causes mentioned in total can be grouped into almost 50 categories.

“Most of the reasons seem to be rather concrete, for example related to their own mistakes and situations with certain people,” report Luck and Luck-Sikorski. It was mainly about a bad conscience towards other people, for example because of a lie.

Less often it was only about oneself, for example laziness or an unhealthy lifestyle (see graphic). Shared responsibility for social or global problems was only rarely mentioned (2 percent), and even fewer violations of religious commandments and prohibitions (0.4 percent of the reasons given).

More often than men, women had a guilty conscience towards their children, other family members and generally out of a sense of responsibility for others. Men felt more guilty about mistakes and problems in the partnership.

The age group 60 and over not only regretted the missed time with the family, but comparatively often also a separation or divorce as well as other forms of failure or failure.

Luck and Luck-Sikorski interpret this in the sense of the developmental psychologist Erik H. Erikson: According to his theory, the most important thing for older people is looking back on a fulfilling life and the feeling of having accomplished something.

In the other age groups, too, failure and failure were among the more important reasons for feelings of guilt, ahead of other negative self-evaluations such as being lazy, egotistical or unreliable.

Luck and Luck-Sikorski want to interpret their findings with caution: an open-ended question like the one in the present survey could only reveal reasons that the people themselves are aware of, they write.

In addition, an online survey is not representative. In one key finding, however, she agreed with a representative telephone survey by Luck and Luck-Sikorski from 2021. According to this, 68.5 percent of adults have felt guilty at some point, hardly less than the 74 percent in the current online study.

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The original for this article “What adults feel guilty about today” comes from