Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion

2020 Edition
| Editors: David A. Leeming

Existential Guilt

  • Louis HoffmanEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-24348-7_200194

Existential guilt, which is sometimes referred to as ontological guilt, is a guilt rooted in one’s existence that may take several forms. Rollo May (1958) identified four primary characteristics. First, existential guilt is universal, or something that everyone experiences. Second, it is not the result of cultural norms or prohibitions, but rather is rooted in the reality of self-awareness. Third, it is distinct from neurotic guilt, though holds the potential to become neurotic when it is denied or repressed. Fourth, it includes constructive potentials when engaged directly or creatively.

May (1958) identified three types of existential guilt connected to different modes of being-in-the-world: Eigenwelt, Mitwelt, and Umwelt. Eigenwelt refers to one’s own world and is innately connected with one’s potential for self-awareness. Existential guilt in this mode is connected with forfeiting or not utilizing one’s potential. This form of existential guilt is the one most prominently...

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Saybrook UniversityOaklandUSA