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The philosopher Martin Buber underlined the difference between the Freudian notion of guilt, based on internal conflicts, and existential guilt, based on actual harm done to others. In mania, according to Otto Fenichel, the patient succeeds in applying to guilt "the defense mechanism of denial by overcompensation...re-enacts being a person without guilt feelings." Guilt appears to prompt reparatory behaviors to alleviate the negative emotions that it engenders.

People appear to engage in targeted and specific reparatory behaviors toward the persons they wronged or offended.

The Latin word for guilt is culpa, a word sometimes seen in law literature, for instance in mea culpa meaning "my fault (guilt)". The New Testament says that this forgiveness is given as written in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4: "3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, for that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." Some believe that the Old and New Testaments have differing opinions on the expiation of guilt because the Old Testaments were subject to the Age of Law and the New Testaments replace the Age of Law with the now current Age of Grace.In this way, he reduces the chances of retaliation by members of his tribe, and thereby increases his survival prospects, and those of the tribe or group.As with any other emotion, guilt can be manipulated to control or influence others.In most instances, people who believe this also acknowledge that even though there is proper guilt from doing 'wrong' instead of doing 'right', people endure all sorts of guilty feelings which do not stem from violating universal moral principles. Guilt is a main theme in John Steinbeck's East of Eden, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat", and many other works of literature.Collective guilt (or group guilt) is the unpleasant and often emotional reaction that results among a group of individuals when it is perceived that the group illegitimately harmed members of another group. In Sartre's The Flies, the Furies (in the form of flies) represent the morbid, strangling forces of neurotic guilt which bind us to authoritarian and totalitarian power.

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