Distinguishing the difference between feelings of guilt and remorse can be crucial to the both spouses understanding of the healing process. In this article we explore the differences and their implications for recovery.
Not long after my partner confessed his affair to me and told me about the other womans pregnancy, he fell into a deep depression. He was a nightmare to live with and we came very close to ending it there and then. I could never put my finger on exactly what it was that drove me crazy about that time until one of our forum members posted the following to explain the difference between guilt and remorse.
It had always seemed to me that the guilt my husband felt had very much more to do with his pain and his loss rather than for any pain or loss he caused me and that lead to a great deal of resentment on my part and a delay in our recovery of some time. I should explain that when I say his pain and his loss, i do not mean any pain he experienced in the "break up" of the affair, rather the pain he suffered when he realized that he was not the person that he had always thought he was. His self image was changed and not for the better.
I think it is relatively normal for a wayward spouse to go through a period of guilt, where they realize in one of those inconvenient moments of clarity, just how far into the gutter they have allowed themselves to fall BUT an emotionally mature person, one who really is committed to gaining back what they stand on the verge of losing, will work to move beyond that, face up to the realities of the situation and find true remorse.
I wish every formally wayward spouse well on this journey. For those who need some direction, the following may be helpful;
- Real remorse means seeing the pain you caused someone, and reaching out to make it better. Feeling bad for the person in pain.
- A person who feels guilt rather than remorse sees the pain of others (that they inflicted) as judgment, condemnation, and feels bad for themselves. What they feel for the person in pain is anger - anger for showing them what they don't want to see (the consequences of their actions).
- Someone who feels remorse for doing a bad thing will always consider the thing they did to be bad.
- Bad feelings associated with guilt are situational, and change with circumstances.
- Someone really remorseful doesn't want to repeat a harmful action - they aren't even tempted to. Real remorse means never doing it again, self accountability.
- Someone who feels guilty can still repeat the actions causing the guilt, precisely to escape the guilt. The only way to end feelings of guilt is self accountability - guilt happens when someone runs from it.
- Remorse says "I'm sorry I hurt you".
- Guilt says "stop making me feel bad for what I did".
- Remorse cares more about the one wounded. They don't care about others holding them accountable because they already hold themselves accountable.
- Guilt worries more about how the wounded one makes them appear in the eyes of others. They feel their self image is being attacked. They do worry about others holding them accountable because they shirk self accountability.
- Remorse means learning from one's harmful actions.
- Guilt means not even facing what one has done, so learning from it isn't likely.
- Remorse means leaving the harmful actions one did in the past, but not forgetting them.
- Guilt carries harmful actions around, keeping them ever present, by attempting to avoid dealing with them. They will always be ever present, a thorn in ones side, looming large and affecting one's life until faced and dealt with. This is self inflicted torture - although a person struggling with guilt will blame others.
- Remorse leads to the ability to forgive the self.
- Guilt leads to self hatred.
- Remorse is action, actively doing something about the harm one caused.
- Guilt is feeling self pity and doing nothing about the harm one caused.