Racked With Guilt: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 24, 2023

The idiom "racked with guilt" generally refers to feeling intensely guilty or being tormented by guilt. It paints a vivid picture of someone being tortured by their guilty conscience, typically due to something they've done or failed to do. This expression indicates a deep, overwhelming sense of guilt, and it's often used in situations where someone's actions have had significant, often negative, consequences.

In short:

  • "Racked with guilt" symbolizes experiencing intense feelings of guilt.
  • This idiom illustrates making an effort to grapple with guilt and remorse.

What Does "Racked with Guilt" Mean?

The expression “racked with guilt” symbolizes being overwhelmed or tormented by guilt. If someone is "racked with guilt," they are experiencing intense feelings of guilt or remorse that are hard to bear.

Let's delve into its essential meanings and usage:

  • "Racked with guilt" conveys the idea of feeling intensely guilty or tormented by a sense of wrongdoing.
  • It is about grappling with feelings of remorse or guilt, usually resulting from one's actions or inactions that have caused harm or distress to others.
  • "Racked with guilt" is often used to describe the emotional turmoil one goes through when dealing with guilt.
    • For instance, someone who has done something wrong and regrets it might say they are "racked with guilt."
  • Other phrases similar to "racked with guilt" include "eaten up with guilt," "consumed with guilt," or "plagued with guilt."

Where Does "Racked with Guilt" Come From?

The phrase "racked with guilt" takes its origins from the concept of physical torture, specifically the medieval torture device known as the rack. Over time, this has shifted to a metaphorical sense, symbolizing the mental torment experienced by intense guilt. Nowadays, it primarily symbolizes the emotional torment associated with feelings of guilt.

Historical Example

"What other refuge can a soul find that is racked with guilt? Let him go to his wealth, his honors, his pleasures; they are all unsavory ashes in the mouth of a man dying with hunger."

- Edward Dorr Griffin, Sermons Volume 2, 1839

10 Examples of "Racked with Guilt" in Sentences

To help you understand when and how to use this phrase, let's consider some examples from various scenarios:

  • After forgetting to check with you before making the decision, I was racked with guilt.
  • He was racked with guilt over neglecting his aging mother and decided to spend more time with her.
  • It is what it is, but I can’t help feeling racked with guilt. I should have done something to change the situation.
  • Racked with guilt after the incident, I decided it was best to lie low for a while.
  • Even after many years, he was still racked with guilt over the car accident, indicating the lasting impact of traumatic events.
  • My partner in crime felt racked with guilt after realizing the consequences of our prank.
  • He confessed his wrongdoings, racked with guilt, a testament to the power of conscience.
  • When I realized my neighbor's car had been repoed because I couldn't help him with his payments, I was racked with guilt.
  • Feeling racked with guilt over breaking her sister's toy, she saved her pocket money to buy a replacement.
  • I was racked with guilt when I learned about the struggles you were going through while I was enjoying myself.

Examples of "Racked with Guilt" in Pop Culture

The expression "racked with guilt" is frequently encountered in pop culture, generally illustrating deep remorse or regret in characters.

Here are some examples:

  • The phrase appears in the book "Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa" by Mark Mathabane: "I was racked with guilt and shame."
  • In Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment," the character Porfiry Petrovich says, "You're simply racking your brains to justify your actions retrospectively."
  • In the movie "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994), the character Sheldon Flender says to David Shayne, "You're racked with guilt. You are racked with guilt."
  • In a description of Ralph Fletcher's book on Encyclopedia.com, the phrase is mentioned: "Racked with guilt, Tommy has a bad dream that night."
  • In the dissertation "History, Myth and Secularism Across the 'Borderlands': The Work of Michael Chabon" by Kent State University, the phrase appears as, "His mother’s plea for him to move on suggests her desire for him to be happy, and her knowledge that Joe would be wracked with guilt for the rest of his life."

Other/Different Ways to Say "Racked with Guilt"

Several other phrases and idioms can communicate the same sense of intense guilt as "racked with guilt."

Here are some alternatives:

  • Tormented by guilt
  • Eaten up by guilt
  • Plagued by guilt
  • Consumed by guilt
  • Burdened with guilt
  • Overcome by guilt
  • Haunted by guilt
  • Overwhelmed by guilt
  • Besieged by guilt
  • Crushed by guilt

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Racked with Guilt":

  • What does "racked with guilt" mean?

"Racked with guilt" is an idiomatic expression used to describe an individual who is experiencing deep remorse or guilt about something they have done.

  • How can I use "racked with guilt" in a sentence?

You can use "racked with guilt" to express deep remorse or regret. For example, "He felt down and depressed. He was racked with guilt for letting his family and friends down."

  • What is the origin of the idiom "racked with guilt"?

The phrase "racked with guilt" originates from the torture device known as the rack. It is used metaphorically to express the pain of intense guilt.

  • Is "racked with guilt" used in a formal or informal context?

"Racked with guilt" can be used in both formal and informal contexts. It's often used in literature and other narrative forms to express deep emotional turmoil.

  • Does "racked with guilt" always imply serious wrongdoing?

No, "racked with guilt" simply implies a strong sense of guilt or remorse, which can arise from a wide range of actions, from minor transgressions to serious offenses.

  • Can "racked with guilt" be used to describe collective guilt?

Yes, "racked with guilt" can be used to describe a group or society feeling collective guilt for a shared wrongdoing or injustice.

  • Is feeling "racked with guilt" unhealthy?

While guilt can be a normal emotional response, being "racked with guilt" implies an intense level of guilt that can potentially be harmful to mental health if it persists. Professional help should be sought if intense guilt feelings interfere with daily life.

  • Can "racked with guilt" lead to positive outcomes?

Yes, feeling "racked with guilt" can lead to positive outcomes if it motivates an individual to make amends, correct their behavior, or seek forgiveness.

  • Does "racked with guilt" imply repentance?

"Racked with guilt" conveys intense guilt feelings, but it does not necessarily imply repentance. However, such strong feelings of guilt can often lead to a desire for repentance.

  • Can animals experience being "racked with guilt"?

It's unclear whether animals experience guilt in the same way humans do. While some animals may show behaviors that look like guilt, it's not certain whether they truly feel "racked with guilt" as humans do.

Final Thoughts About "Racked with Guilt"

The idiom "racked with guilt" paints a vivid picture of the intense emotional turmoil one can experience when dealing with strong feelings of guilt or remorse. It's a universal human experience that cuts across cultures, languages, and personal backgrounds. This phrase underlines the importance of understanding our actions and their consequences, the need for forgiveness and making amends when we've done wrong, and the potential for personal growth that can come from grappling with guilt.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Racked with guilt" refers to the profound emotional distress caused by severe guilt or remorse.
  • It is used to express a variety of guilt experiences, from minor mistakes to serious wrongdoings.
  • While the experience can be painful, being "racked with guilt" can also serve as an impetus for personal growth and transformation.

Despite its unpleasant nature, guilt plays a critical role in our moral and social lives, helping us recognize when we've made a mistake and encouraging us to correct it. The phrase "racked with guilt" powerfully encapsulates this complex emotional experience.

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