Fyodor Dostoevsky provides the origin of this rumination through Prince Myshkin, the main character of Dostoevsky's novel, The Idiot.
[Prince Myshkin speaking to Aglaia about Nastasya Filippovna]
"That unhappy woman is firmly convinced that she is the most fallen, the most vicious creature in the whole world. Oh, don't cry shame on her, don't throw stones at her! She has tortured herself too much from the consciousness of her undeserved shame! And, my God, she's not to blame! Oh, she's crying out every minute in her frenzy that she doesn't admit going wrong, that she was the victim of others, the victim of a depraved and wicked man. But whatever she may say to you, believe me, she's the first to disbelieve it, and to believe with her whole conscience that she is...to blame. When I tried to dispel that gloomy delusion, it threw her into such misery that my heart will always ache when I remember that awful time. It's as though my heart had been stabbed once for all. She ran away from me. Do you know what for? Simply to show me that she was a degraded creature. But the most awful thing is that perhaps she didn't even know herself that she only wanted to prove that to me, but ran away because she had an irresistible inner craving to do something shameful, so as to say to herself at once, 'There, you've done something shameful again, so you're a degraded creature!' Oh, perhaps you won't understand this, Aglaia. Do you know that in that continual consciousness of shame there is perhaps a sort of awful, unnatural enjoyment for her, a sort of revenge on someone. Sometimes I did bring her to seeing light round her once more, as it were. But she would grow restive again at once, and even came to accusing me bitterly of setting myself up above her (though I had no thought of such a thing) and told me in so many words at last, when I offered her marriage, that she didn't want condescending sympathy or help from anyone, nor to be elevated to anyone's level. You saw her yesterday. Do you think she's happy with that set, that they are fitting company for her? You don't know how well educated she is, and what she can understand! She really amazed me sometimes."
Now, there are a number of passages that I earmarked in the course of reading The Idiot, but this was by far my favorite, and has been most frequently revisited by me since finishing the book. My first question is this: Do you know anyone whom this would describe? I admit myself to demonstrating to a much lesser extent the basic flaw of Nastasya; that is, I often place upon myself an undeserved guilt, or a feeling of being unworthy of this or of that. However, in me (and I'm sure in many others), it does not translate into performing some shameful act in order to prove to myself that I am indeed a "degraded creature." My reason for posting this passage, then, is really just that it seems a great one for reflective purposes. It quite eloquently states a relatively common fault, to varying degrees, of many great people. Further, I've always felt there to be some truth in the notion that among the best ways to surmount a character flaw is to be flatly confronted with it. If this is you, you will see yourself within it, yet you will still recognize it for the flaw it is and may feel compelled toward change.
So what is the psychology of such a sentiment? Is it symptomatic of self esteem issues of a youthly origin--some kind of Freudian delusion? Is it an actual psychopathology of sorts? How should one go about addressing it in a friend or loved one? Of course, these are the questions, and the answers will surely vary for each relationship. I suppose my main curiosity is whether such a sentiment is as widespread as it seems it could be.
Currently listening to: "Four Winds" by Bright Eyes
Previous activity: Mailed a couple "thank you" cards to Cornell
Next thing on the agenda: Reading "Pale Fire" by Nabokov