Remorse - Hallmark of Great Leaders & of Rich, Fulfilling Relationships

I sobbed as a six-year-old when I dropped one of my mothers collector dolls, and the porcelain face of the doll was broken. My heart was truly broken. How could I tell my mother, who allowed me to play with her little treasures, that I had broken one of them? I remember thinking that I wish I was a grown-up so that I could go get an extra job and work really really hard so I could buy her a new one. Thankfully, I didn’t know at a time, that the collectors item could simply not be replaced. I think the porcelain break what is minor compared to the break of my heart.

I sobbed as a six-year-old when I dropped one of my mother’s collector dolls, and the porcelain face of the doll was broken. My heart was truly broken. How could I tell my mother, who allowed me to play with her little treasures, that I had broken one of them? I remember thinking that I wished I was a grown-up so that I could go get an extra job and work really, really hard so I could buy her a new one. Thankfully, I didn’t know at a time, that the collectors item could simply not be replaced. I think the porcelain break of the doll’s face and my broken heart were beginning pieces of understanding remorse for me.

Was it regret? Or was it remorse? And what is the difference?

Regret has been defined as feeling sad or disappointed over something that has happened, or feeling sadness over a lost opportunity.

Remorse has been defined as sincere compassion over the results of a misdeed, with great empathy for all affected.

In shorter terms, regret normally focuses how it affected one’s self, while remorse certainly considers how it affected self, but  focus is on the impact on others and sincere apologies and/or amends.

Research clearly shows that the greater one’s ability to experience and act on remorse, the higher the quality of relationships. Unfortunately, in our current day and age, remorse is often counter intuitive. 

We are quick to assign blame outside of ourselves, or offer excuses and/or justifications for our choices and behaviors.

It is interesting to read what neuroscience has to say about our brain function in experiencing regret or remorse. For example, in psychopaths, research has shown that the parts of the brain that are normally activated by remorse and empathy (the anterior insula, the anterior midcingulate cortex, the somatosensory cortex, and the right amygdala) fail to activate in psychopaths.

Before you try to label whether or not you know a psychopath, just be aware that the prevalence of psychopathy in prisons is around 23% but in the average population, only about 1% are psychopathic. 

However, there are three additional very specific diagnoses where there is lack of remorse:

     1. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) – this diagnosis is assigned to about 2 to 6% of the population. Approximately 30% if that group is female.    

     2. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) – This diagnosis is assigned to about 6 to 10% of the population, and approximately 50% of that group is male.

     3. Connections/Attachment disorder – This diagnosis is applicable to about 50% of the population.

While all three of these groups contain people who have the ability to experience regret (how things effect them), the vast majority struggle with the concept of remorse.

That means a very large portion of our population struggles with remorse. However, research has shown that remorse can be developed as a character trait. What does that mean? It means we are not doomed if it’s not a natural programming in our brains. It means that you can work at developing remorse, which is one of the hallmarks of great leaders, as well as people who report rich and fulfilling relationships.

Just in case you are unclear whether or not you experience regret or remorse, Here are some statements that might assist you in understanding your ability to experience regret only, or both regret and remorse. here are the kinds of things that people say when they experience regret:

  • I’m so sorry that offended you
  • You do that same thing to me
  • I wish I hadn’t done that because I don’t like it when you’re mad at me
  • You need to let that go because it’s something that happened a while ago
  • I know you know my heart and you know I didn’t mean that
  • I hope you will forgive me (with no expression or acknowledgment of the wrong Dunn)

Here are the kinds of things people say when they experience remorse:

  • I am so sorry that I have hurt you. What can I do to help or to be a part of making it right?
  • I can see that this has deeply hurt you and I am truly sorry for causing you pain
  • I should have never said what I said because I see it has caused  you to feel                         
  • You absolutely have a right to be angry, and I’m willing to hear about that anger and care about it
  • I know I was wrong in what I did, and I would love to know what I could do to make it right
  • I understand that this is going to take you some time to get through, but I want to be here and support you as you get through it

Understand that regret is not bad. As a matter of fact, research says that when regret and remorse or combined, there is a very high likelihood of great benefits, such as:

  • Personal growth
  • Lessons learned
  • Greatly decreased likelihood of repeating the same mistake
  • Opportunity to question values and make modifications
  • Internal change
  • Increased self awareness

If you happen to be one of those that struggle with remorse, here are some things you can do to begin developing remorse as a character quality:

1. Ask someone close to you (a sibling, a relationship partner or spouse, a very close friend) with whom you have regular interaction to sit with you to do an inventory weekly. Ask them for one example of something you did or said (or perhaps failed to do or say) that had even a slight negative affect on them. Ask them to explain in as much detail as they can exactly how they felt and what they thought when that occurred. Momentarily, suspend how/what you thought or felt about that, and turn 100% of your focus to how they felt about it. How are you felt about it is not wrong, but that’s regret. How they felt about it is tapping into the ability to experience remorse.

2. Recall interactions that did not go well in the past 30 days. Send an email or text to the other person involved that says something along these lines: “I know our interaction about did not go well. I would like to know more about how it affected you. And what could I do to make any negative impact it had on you better?” Consider the feedback, and take action on things suggested if possible.

3. Take a moment at the end of each day, and review any interaction that had a negative impact on you. Then spend a few moments considering what negative impact it may have had on the other party. Make some notes about that. That activates the part of your brain that considers the other people in each interaction.

4. It’s never too late. I love the 4th and 5th steps of the 12 step program used in addiction recovery. Basically the 4th step is a fearless \ moral inventory… an honest look at… what you have done (or not done) that has hurt other people. Then step five is to make it right by making amends. Amends means taking an active part in the healing process of what occurred. You might want to take a glance back at your life, and ask yourself who might greatly benefit from you making amends. I remember a number of years ago, I had worked intently with a family. There were some financial struggles, and ultimately, I wrote off the invoice rather than sending it for collections\. Several years later, after many life improvements, their financial condition greatly improved. They sent me a letter containing a check, and said that they hoped it was an amount that exceeded what I had written off. And that one of the things that they were committed to doing was making amends for poor financial choices. It was an amends I never expected, but I received it with great gratitude.

5. Ask God for help. I truly believe that he wants to help us develop great quality in our character, and remorse is one of those great qualities.

Ultimately, I took the porcelain doll in one hand with the little pieces of the porcelain face in the other to my mother. With streaming tears, I told her I would do extra chores for one year to pay to have her beautiful doll replaced.

My mother carefully took the little porcelain pieces out of my hand, and took the doll out of the other hand, and put her arms around me. Through her tears, she said, “The dolls face can be fixed and repaired. But what’s much more important to me is to heal your little broken heart.” We cried together.

My Mother & I sharing Christmas cheer with my dad, just moments before he took his last breath. She truly was an angel!

Yes, everyone who knew my precious mother, Sissie Moore, knows she was an angel here on earth. I’m so grateful that she graciously received my remorse. But I’m even more grateful thatk not just at that moment, but for most of my life, she instilled in me the desire to heal the hearts of others. 

I hope you will increase your experiences of remorse. Someone in your life needs to hear that you are sorry, but not just sorry… That you want to be part of their healing.

Just a few months before I lost my Mother at Easter time, she had accidentally toppled one of my dolls on the stairway in our home.  When I came in from the office that evening, she had the little doll sitting by her, and she tearfully told me how she had broken her little face, but had repaired it the best she could.

I knelt beside her, and told her that I so appreciated how she had instilled her love of dolls in me, and that I loved every single one of the dolls we shared. But what I loved more than anything else on earth was her.

The tables had turned. She had forgotten about what occurred with her doll when I was six years old. But her remorse reminded me how blessed I was to have someone who modeled and taught me about remorse.

Research indicates that when there is remorse, a person’s time frame for forgiveness is often cut in half.  Always remember that demonstrations of remorse do not make you look weak to the other person. It makes you look like a hero!

Who needs you to show remorse and be a part of their healing process? I hope you’ll take time to give them a visit, a call, or send a text or email today!