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Difference Between Guilt and Remorse

Guilt vs Remorse

Guilt, although believed to be an essential aspect of human behavior, is an extremely complex emotion. However, the word guilt is often used in various shades of senses. It is commonly used to depict the state of owning up to some action, for instance a crime, and acknowledging that its effects could have affected some people in a negative way. It describes the conflict of emotional feelings that a person will have after realizing a wrong action. However, accepting guilt doesn’t necessarily mean remorsefulness. It is vitally important to differentiate remorse from guilt as it’s perfectly possible for a person to be guilty without showing any remorse, at least from a legal point of view.

Remorse comes from a real awareness of taking full responsibility for acting in a harmful way towards some person or people. It makes one feel that his ethical standards have been violated. Remorse will not imply that what you did proves your inherent evil ways, or that you are immoral but direct you to take positive steps to do away with actions that may cause harm.

One of the key differences between guilt and remorse is that while guilt tends to lead to self destructive tendencies, remorse leads to constructive action.

From a legal point of view, the first sense of guilt means responsibility for a crime. It is established through trials which consider any evidence available to determine if a crime was committed by the accused or not. Other actions may not necessarily be considered as crimes but may be socially immoral or unacceptable and people may admit guilt for doing such actions, for instance using the lavatory and leaving it in an unclean state.

Psychologically, guilt is a very difficult emotion to pin down and often, many people with psychological problems find it difficult to contend with it as a part of their overall condition. Many offenders feel guilt and remorse but the absence of remorse in cases that are totally reprehensible, like serial killings, is psychologically considered to suggest a personality affected by psychopathy. Thus, it is very important to know the distinction between guilt and remorse. Psychopathic offenders do not feel any remorse for their crimes even if they admit guilt. That’s an important distinction.

Summary
1.Guilt is acknowledging a crime or a harmful action while remorse is regretting the actions and taking steps to undo damage.
2.Guilt tends to lead to destructive tendencies while remorse leads to constructive actions.
3.For one to be remorseful he has to accept guilt first. However, one can accept guilt without being remorseful.


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2 Comments

  1. Guilt is self-judgment about what you did or said. When it’s healthy guilt, it does lead to constructive action and builds self-esteem. It’s shame that is paralyzing, because we feel like a bad person. We feel irredeemable, and get depressed and/or angry. I agree we can feel guilt without remorse, but healthy guilt, uncontaminated with shame, leads to remorse, amends and constructive character reformation. There is a lot of research on this.
    Darlene Lancer, LMFT
    Author of “Conquering Shame and Codependency.”
    http://www.whatiscodependency.com

    • I also have some qualifiers regard the statements summed at the end of the article.
      Guilt is acknowledgement of wrong doing, yes. Implying that subsequent remorse is related specifically to actions involved in the guilt scenario is incorrect.
      An individual could donate art talent to a community auction for the lack of awareness involved in a car accident. The two are not related but why should they be?
      I see guilt being mobilized by anyone with knowledge of the event and judgement imposed which is remedial action required specifically to suit the mental precepts of the individual aware of the guilt. In other words, nothing is sufficient except what the bystander deems is sufficient.

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