“Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a universal moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.” –Wikipedia definition
Guilt is a feeling that most individuals experience in their lifetime. It can be argued it’s what makes America a civilized society. Guilt reminds us to act in a pro-social manner lest we feel emotional distress due to our actions. Guilt can be a very powerful motivator that provides the tenants of a productive community. Most members of society learn to experience vicarious pain while young and they develop into adults who sympathize with others in pain. By learning this behavior, the idea of harming others through violence starts to feel uncomfortable. That said, it would be unsurprising to learn that Ted Bundy did not experience remorse. He saw guilt as a sign of weakness and judged those who exhibited guilt on any level. Ted famously said he felt sorry for people who felt remorse.
However, psychopaths like Bundy lack guilt and empathy. They compartmentalize their feelings and view the world from a purely narcissistic viewpoint. Anything and everything around them is theirs to use and control. Many psychopaths live in their own fantasy world. For a psychopath to commit any range of crimes, it is essential that they feel entitled. In this way, the individual feels he or she deserves what they want, regardless of laws. Most psychopaths understand the difference between right and wrong, but do not feel the rules apply to them. They are easily able to minimize their effect on humanity when embarking on a crime spree. Guilt never plays a part in their crimes.
Ted Bundy once said, “Guilt. It’s a mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism and it’s very unhealthy.” The language he uses gives the impression he at least understood how guilt worked and how it affected people. Unfortunately, he used his knowledge of guilt to manipulate his victims and others around him. The women who fell for his “wounded law student” routine felt they should help him carry his books to his car. Bundy knew exactly how to control the situation to benefit his interests and was never hindered by feelings of regret. A lack of empathy combined with superficial charm guaranteed a pool of victims for a sophisticated serial criminal whom no one ever saw coming.
Much can be said about Bundy’s lack of guilt and its causes. His childhood remains locked in mystery, though stories of abuse and dysfunctional behavior have leaked to the media over time. Joe Nunziata noted in his book “Spiritual Selling” that “Guilt [and shame] is the weapon of choice used by parents to control their children…In most cases, parents are not using guilt on a conscious level.” More than likely, Bundy’s behavior as a child was curbed by the guilt elicited by his mother and grandparents. Due to various circumstances, guilt was less of a motivator over time, and his aberrant behavior increased. Once arrested, Ted told to an investigator, “I don’t feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt.” When all is said and done, the lack of remorse extolled by Ted’s callous behavior speaks volumes. His behavior wouldn’t have changed regardless of consequences, only turning more violent over time. Despite its strength, guilt clearly had no power over him.
Nunziata, J. “Spiritual Selling,” Hoboken, NJ, Wiley, 2007.
Winch, Guy Ph.D. (11/9/14). “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Guilt.”https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201411/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-guilt