Parallel returns: feelings, temporality and narrative in the experience of guilt

Boden, Zoë V.R. and Eatough, Virginia (2019). Parallel returns: feelings, temporality and narrative in the experience of guilt. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 17(1) pp. 36–52.



This article tentatively sketches out a model of guilt. It is based on hermeneutic-phenomenological analyses of five men’s accounts of feeling guilty and is informed by phenomenological and narrative theory. The model maps how guilt unfolds through time in a looping, iterative manner. Initially, guilt feelings are overwhelming and immediate such that time seems to collapse. The guilt process then unfolds into two parallel returns, temporal loops wherein an individual first relives his or her guilt feelings (a bodily return) and then renarrates the experience (a narrative return) in numerous iterations in an attempt to make sense of what has happened. The final phase maps the resolution: as the narrative becomes more adequate, sense-making becomes easier, and bodily experience is incorporated into overarching life narratives in a process of synthesis. When this happens, the experience shifts from feeling stuck to progression. Mapping guilt in this way offers insight into the interplay among temporality, feelings, and narrative in this particular experience but may also provide a framework to consider how it is possible to work through other difficult emotional experiences.

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