Guilt or Remorse

We all make mistakes. At some time we have all said something hurtful to someone, or acted in a way that we knew was wrong. We naturally feel bad about it. In fact, it is important that we feel bad about it; it is part of being human. It would be much more worrying if we felt just fine and happy about our wrong or harmful actions.

To err is an inevitable part of being human. We are all imperfect. We all make mistakes, no matter how enlightened we might believe we are. For me, the most important aspect is how we respond in such situations. Do we respond with guilt or with remorse?

Guilt, from my perspective, is one of what I call the pointless emotions along with for example, worrying, self-pity and self-flagellation. Guilt is a dense, egocentric, claustrophobic, gooey and unpleasant emotion. We can dedicate a lot of time to feeling guilty. We change nothing. We learn nothing. We just make ourselves feel worse, whilst remaining stuck. Typical comments that are associated with guilt:

  • “I’m such a useless parent. I just can’t seem to control my kids.”
  • “I ate too much again. What an apathetic loser I am.”
  • “I know that I should visit my parents more. I’m really a bad son/daughter.”
  • “I promised myself that I wouldn’t get angry anymore. I am an utter disaster for losing my temper again.”
  • “There is no excuse for coming home drunk, again. I’m just a rotten person.”

You hope that by judging yourself and feeling guilty, you will pay the appropriate emotional price, and you will feel so guilty that you will never do it again. Of course, this never works, since behaviour only changes when your perception and intention change, not when you are cruelly judging yourself. What is worse, if you feel guilt rather than remorse it means that you will probably do it again. (Once you’ve stopped feeling guilty of course.)

Like self-pity, guilt is weirdly self-indulgent.

Remorse, in contrast, is a sincere regret for your actions (rather than guilt for who you imagine you are), coupled with a desire to take whatever measures necessary to make sure that this does not happen again. The act of observing honestly our hurtful actions, is uncomfortable. Accepting responsibility for our actions and taking steps to put it right will relieve some of the discomfort.

Thus remorse offers the opportunity for real change or transformation. When we come to the honest understanding of our behaviour (mindful observation is very useful here), and how that behaviour has hurt another person, we have the opportunity to make amends. We can alter our behaviour from that point forward.

Remorse is uncomfortable, but vital. Guilt on the other hand is much more uncomfortable, generates much more suffering whilst bringing zero change or benefit to the person feeling it.

Guilt comes from the ego, the rational mind it takes us further away from ourselves.

Remorse comes from the heart. It is a deep and powerful feeling, and creates deep and powerful change. It brings us back to the truth of who we are.

Peace Health and Happiness from Las Bardas

 

 

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