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The Difference between Guilt and Regret/Remorse
I heard from a friend about a man involved in serious car accident. His girl friend, who sat beside him, died in the accident. The driver knew his share of responsibility for what happened. He said he experienced terrible guilt.
Guilt is a reactive emotion to a past event where one feels one has violated one’s own moral standpoint. The person who feels guilt lays upon themselves an immense amount of blame.
Guilt keeps bothering the heart and mind in the waking state and often in sleep. The conscience remains troubled – sometimes for years. Guilt can lead to much unhappiness, depression and suicidal thoughts, even years after the event.
There is a difference between guilt and regret or remorse.
As a reactive emotion, guilt makes it hard to see clearly and understand the tragedy of what took place and the details of what led up to the tragedy, perhaps patterns extending over a long period.
Plagued with guilt, the person cannot find any peace or clarity about a past event.
Sometimes the loved ones of the deceased continue for years to blame the person who takes responsibility for the death.
Guilt has a major impact of feelings of worth about oneself; the person feels very low. Sometimes the person with guilt leads to their desire to blame others because it is too hard to cope with the feelings of guilt.
The desire of the family and friends of the deceased to blame often has behind it the desire to keep the person feeling guilty in the months and years ahead. Such pressure can make the person reactive again with the potential to harm themselves or another – in a deliberate or accidental way.
Regret and remorse serve as an important emotional response to a painful past event
With regret or remorse, the person can examine events leading up to the tragedy and find skilful ways and means to seek forgiveness from loved ones.
There is also a commitment to develop a change of attitude and behaviour to protect others and oneself from such vulnerabilities.
Regret or remorse is a similar feeling to guilt. It is important to distinguish the difference. It is not always easy to do. The two feelings can also get mixed together.
The person may have to look deep into themselves and ask the person who died for her or his forgiveness, too. It may sound esoteric but it can be an important part of the healing and transformational process.
Some will definitely need the wise counsel of others to resolve their guilt. Living in guilt is not helpful. Regret and remorse serve as the starting point for inner change and the deep wish to live a mindful and caring life to support others.
In coming to terms with a painful past event, it leads to sensitivity and care for others with a way of life that wishes to maximise support and protection in the variety of circumstances.
May all beings live mindful lives
May all beings live with awareness
May all beings live with clarity and wisdom