Guilt vs. Remorse

H doesn’t understand the definition of the word remorse and even though I have told him what it is, he still doesn’t seem to understand. So, with the help of some friends, here is what I gathered…..

Guilt is a common emotion but can create unhappiness and depression. There is an important difference between remorse and guilt. Guilt is an emotion experienced when you think the following ways: I have done something that I should not have done or failed to do something I should have done. My actions fall short of my moral standards, and violate my concept of fair, decent behavior. This “bad behavior”, proves I am a “bad person”. The idea of yourself as “bad” is central to guilt. Without it, your hurtful action may lead to a healthy feeling of remorse or regret, but not guilt.

Remorse comes from an undistorted awareness that you fully acted in a hurtful manner towards someone, in a way which violated your personal ethical standards. Remorse carries no implications that your actions prove you are inherently bad, evil or immoral. It can direct you to take steps to change that hurtful behavior. Guilt usually paralyzes you from positive action. Remorse or regret is aimed at the behavior that was done. Guilt is targeted towards your “self”.

Guilt fuels self-destructive attitudes. Remorse fuels constructive action. Recognize what guilt is, and the difference between it and remorse. The payoff is that you will feel better about yourself and life.

  • Remorse is feeling bad about ones actions AND taking steps to heal any damage your actions caused another person AND healing yourself so you never take those actions again.
  • Remorse is “I got caught, it was my choice to act that way, and I’m going to do all I can to fix whatever damage I caused, and never do this again”
  • Remorse is signified by selfless behavior.
  • Remorse is taking responsibility for one’s horrific actions. No blame shifting. No minimizing. No “forgetting.” No controlling the exchange of information.
  • Remorse is empathy in the face of your pain.
  • Remorse is seeing real pain at your pain. It’s connection. It is not control. It’s not arrogant.
  • Remorse is humility.
  • Remorse is sorrow.
  • Remorse is open and willing.

The other key aspect is that one can experience remorse that is never seen by the person they hurt. If the way remorse is communicated is not in the language desired by the person whom they harmed, it will never be acknowledged. For example, buying someone who’s Apology Language is Acts of Service a dozen roses will do little. But picking up needed groceries without being asked will go a long long way.

In conclusion, here’s a link to an article in the healing library on SI – Guilt vs Remorse.

10 thoughts on “Guilt vs. Remorse

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  1. IF guilt has to be followed by remorse, then what is the difference between guilt and atonement that is NOT RELATED to the event that caused the guilt?

  2. Thanks for you comment. I would be interested to hear what your definition of remorse is while comparing it to guilt.

  3. Actually, this is incorrect. Guilt is self-judgment about what you did or said, but it’s shame that is paralyzing, because we feel like a bad person. We feel irredeemable, and get depressed and/or angry. Guilt leads to amends and constructive character reformation. There is a lot of research on this.
    Darlene Lancer, LMFT
    Author of “Conquering Shame and Codependency.”

  4. Guilt is being found out doing something wicked and then doing nothing to rectify it. Guilt is also the way you have treated someone and the pain it has caused and not been able to say how sorry you are. Remorse is the inner feeling that you experience later for what you have done to someone who has been close to you and not been able to say how sorry you are to this person who is now deceased.

  5. I’ve been pondering he difference between guilt and remorse for some time, nice to see a definition that can clear things up.

  6. Unfortunately, technically there is no difference between remorse and guilt if you go by the book. But from intuition, I fully understand what you mean. If I may, I would like to say that in my experience, remorse means you wish you hadn’t done it. But guilt is feeling sorry for it. Hope all goes well with you, all the best. S.

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