Does Pain Ease Guilt?

Pain has been said to purify; we’ve all heard it from one place or another, but is it scientifically true? It just may be.

A study done with 29 Australian students put this theory to the test.  Broken into three groups, two groups wrote about a time that had made them feel bad and the other group wrote about something they had done the previous day.  After writing they were given a questionnaire and asked if they felt guilty; they then were asked to either submerge their hand in an ice bucket or a bucket of warm water, once again they were asked how guilty they felt.  The group that put their hand in an ice bucket a) felt an ease of guilt after the exercise and b) left their hand in the cold longer than expected.

What does this tell us? Well, there seems to be some correlation between pain and easing guilt since some students felt a little better after the cold water exercise.  But there are some shortcomings to this; the authors make the point that in this case the “pain” is given a reason.  Therefore, there could be a potential perception of eased guilt; more research should be conducted on this topic.

A lot of religions believe that self-inflicted pain can remove (or purify) sins getting us closer to God (or whatever next step someone may believe in), such as the mortification of the flesh in the Roman Catholic Church.  If this study was conducted with a number of devout religious types, it’s possible some of the results would have been different.

All of us have the potential to feel guilt no matter what our religious affiliation is.  Before you take matters into your own hands, why not try yoga, hanging out with someone you love or meditation.  If nothing is working and you still feel horrible, maybe it’s time to find someone to talk to.  Discussing your feelings may actually make you feel much better and help you understand the root of your guilt and pain.

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