The Remorse of A Champion

“You struck a nerve when you spoke about remorse in our session last week. It went through me like a shockwave!”

Last week I wrote about the couple who came to build their ego strength together, and shortly after, the husband returned to talk about remorse.

He called it a shockwave.

It must’ve hit a nerve in many people. Because it evoked a string of emails, texts, several Facebook posts/messages, and phone calls.

From the responses, I learned a lot of things that I wanted to address: some bullet points…for what is remorse? 

Why is it when you search YouTube for videos on remorse, all that pops up are a few songs or information about murderers with no remorse? 

These are the smattering of the kinds of questions that I received.

  • Why’s there so little teaching about remorse?
  • What’s wrong with those who feel no remorse?
  • Do you have to feel remorse to ask for forgiveness?
  • Why is the word remorse not mentioned in the Bible?
  • What’s the difference between repentance and remorse?

But when my client returned, after suggesting, he practice remorse to build his ego strength, I knew that likely you could benefit from the work we did together.

We began with the definition of remorse:

“A sense of deep sorrow for something you did, or said, or failed to do or say that affected others (or situations) in a negative, harmful, or destructive way.”

(Note…Over the years of my practice, one truth I’ve seen time and again as repentance/change of direction is pursued and remorse takes root in someone’s heart and soul, is the absence of need to revisit those (yes) justifiable past hurts and injustices. True remorse, sought after by perpetrator and embraced by the victim, stops any need to vindicate any feelings connected to any hurtful or destructive memory.) 

My client commented, “I really did feel horrible about how I had gas torched my wife about falling asleep, instead of waiting for our son to get home. But I didn’t feel it until our session when you pointed it out. Is there something wrong with me?”

If you missed any of the story last week, you can find it by clicking on this link:

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. 

In a world filled with people whose depth of conviction is based on likes or dislikes, we are quick to assign blame outside of ourselves or offer excuses and/or justifications for our choices and behaviors.

It’s 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. 

Most of the time, when people, like my wonderful client struggle with remorse, it’s because they have had little to no modeling of remorse in their life. Not surprising since research indicates that over 50% of students attending ‘state universities’ are not familiar with remorse.

My goal with my client, and with you…is to invite you to understand remorse and practice it when appropriate. Not only because it improves the quality of relationships, but because it serves other important roles and has other important benefits.

“Someone who really loves you sees what a mess you can be, how moody you can get, how hard you are to handle but still wants you.”

Rachele Richard

1. Why remorse is important.

Once again, I affirmed my client for getting to a place of remorse in the situation where he was irresponsible with his wife’s request. I also affirmed how he turned it around and used it for an opportunity of great healing in the marriage.

(Note…Remorse has an energy, a power, a spirit all its own. I’ve seen it; almost literally. I don’t quite totally understand how it works, but I believe with all my heart, God made us to be able to sense the depth of one another’s surrender. Maybe so that in our greatest moment of need, we can reflect His image to each other. There’s no deeper form of surrender than remorse. That’s truly arriving at the end of ourselves. The one place where we all find God, or change, or life, or hope, or…the beginning of ‘GOOD’!)

Remorse does several things in a relationship:

  • It creates a sense of safety. Often, when someone is “caught”, rather than feeling remorse, they use it as an opportunity for gaslighting: “You’re just too sensitive.”
  • It creates a natural consequence that deters repeating the action that brought the remorse.
  • Taking responsibility for one’s wrongs invites deeper connection.
  • True remorse is accompanied by amends, or some way of making it “right” that deepens respect.

People often avoid remorse because they’re afraid it will tarnish someone’s view of them. The truth is … remorse can quickly raise you from a “zero” to a “hero.”

My client confessed: “Well, I’m not sure I went to hero status, but I did see what a difference it made to her when I was willing to take responsibility for falling asleep when I was supposed to stay awake to make sure our son arrived home safely. But when I made it right, I could tell/almost see that it really meant something to her!”

I smiled and said, “It means something to all of us when that occurs. So, I have a question. Do you think the way that occurred here in the office last week will make you more likely or less likely to experience and practice remorse again?”

Without pause he said, “Are you kidding me? We’re more connected than we’ve been in years. I hope I don’t do any more stupid stuff that would make me need to be remorseful! But it did do our marriage a world of good! How do I make sure I’m practicing remorse?”

I loved the question, and I think this is one of the most important pieces of practicing remorse. If you’re…

  • Explaining why you did what you did…
  • Excusing yourself by stating your intentions or…
  • Justifying what happened …

You’re NOT practicing remorse!

(Note…Instead of acting on or pondering those things, focus on how it affected the other person whether it was your intention or not!

I know this is new ‘emotionally expressive’ territory for you. Yes, it may feel a bit scary, and your rebellion may have kicked in because you’ve never been here before.

But what you’re really dealing with is an unhealthy pattern of how you’ve always done life and controlled it previously. So, the cycling thoughts that go with these patterned responses in you, ‘always’ want to take the lead. BUT… as we’ve all heard Dr. Phil say on TV, “How’s that kind of life worked for you so far?”)

He confirmed with… “Got it!”

If the only benefit of remorse was making your relationship stronger and more intimate, it would be worth it … wouldn’t it?

2. The difference between remorse and repentance.

There are many technical differences written about when studying the difference between remorse and repentance. My client had an interesting view when I asked him if he knew the difference.

“Well, I’m not sure this is right, but remorse is when I make it right with my wife, and repentance is when I make it right with God.”

I admired his interpretation. I responded: “You know, that’s really brilliant, but I often tell people that you can find technical differences, but when your heart is in the right place both probably happen. The desire in true remorse  is to acknowledgment of what you did, and then to make it ‘right’ in the best way possible. In addition, to commit to whatever it takes to make sure you don’t repeat anything that hurt, harms, or affects others negatively!”

“Well, my wife would like that because …”  I waited for his response.

“It just covers all the bases,” he said reflectively.

Some would say that remorse is turning to the one you hurt. And repentance is turning away from that behavior.

Regardless of how you distinguish them, I recommend that my clients just cover all the bases. The reason I avoid using the word “repentance” is that so many only think of that in religious terms. Something one must do so that God doesn’t alienate them.  

(Note…Remorse usually starts with a heart pause. Then we’re faced with how deep we allow it to go. We decide if it’s the turning point. Yes, I’ve witnessed these pinnacles over and over…again and again. Not to sound too religious, but you just can’t under play the power of these pivotal life shifting destiny altering moments. So, if it’s the Bible that will help magnify their importance, I’m all in. Moses said, “Before you stand life or death; choose life.” Our surrender to remorse is not a death, but step one to a path of life abundant.)    

I like to think of both remorse and repentance as something that’s about the heart. A true desire to address what happened and do any repair work necessary.

“Sometimes, the mistake is not the problem; the lack of remorse is the real mistake.” – Michael Bassey Johnson

3. The evidence of remorse.

My client commented, “I really want to make sure I practice remorse. Something deep, really deep, happened in me during that session in your office. It was profound. I want my children to know it and practice it. Most importantly, I want it to become part of my character. I believe it’ll make me a better husband, a better dad, a better man.”

“Indeed,” I replied!

He, like many others, really wanted to understand it more fully.

To fully embrace it. And live life accordingly.

To help him in this new-found conviction, I began to explain what we most often see in those who’re practicing remorse.

  • Ability to admit mistakes made in a heartfelt manner.

They not only admit their mistakes, or harm they’ve done but do so with vulnerability and humility. There is no evidence of grandstanding, story telling on repeat of… ‘the devil made me do it’!

  • Responsibility is taken for what occurred without excuses.

They not only take responsibility for what they did, but they do so with no blame shifting. They clearly state what they did, and how they believe it affected the other.

  • Their apology, their “I’m sorry” is not a comment, it is a heartfelt experience.

A quick “I’m so sorry” or “Oh…I apologize” does not communicate remorse. Full sentences of responsibility and true care are exhibited. Their tone, their facial expressions, and their words display true sorrow. Then they’re open to conversation and willing to hear the feedback of the one harmed.

  • They communicate a desire to never repeat what occurred and will reveal a plan to insure no recurrence.

No plan or communication reporting the intention to behave differently in the future … well, that simply is not remorse. “I feel so badly about how this hurt you that I plan to read a book to help me learn how to make different choices in these situations.”

  • A deep desire to make things right.

When one is truly remorseful, they want to help with the healing process. For example, if you accidentally knocked someone over, you wouldn’t say you were sorry and keep going. When remorseful, you would extend your hand to help them up and make sure they were not injured. If they were injured, you’d help them get medical care. That’s true remorse.

  • Demonstration of empathy and compassion and care about your feelings.

True remorse not only welcomes the feeling of the other, but they truly desire to know the feelings of the one they hurt or harmed. They listen to their feelings, validate their feelings, and demonstrate true care and compassion.

  • The act of checking back in.

When there’s true remorse, there’s a natural desire to check back in on the person or situation to insure all is well. To inquire if more is needed from you. To feel certain that healing has or is in the process of occurring.

“Those are some of the things I recommend you look for when checking up on your remorsefulness,” I explained to my client.

“I really like the last one. Would it be appropriate to go back to my wife and assure her I learned my lessons about being dependable as a co-parent with her and assure her that if I say I’ll wait up for the kids again, I truly will,” he asked?

I truly appreciated his true devotion to learning about remorse.

“Yes. And you might ask her if she’s still experiencing any moments from that night when her panic occurred? And if she feels that you appropriately demonstrated remorse for ‘gas torching’ (his words for gaslighting) her? Or if she needed any additional reassurance from you that you ‘got it’?”

It’s such a beautiful thing when I get to witness true remorse in my office.

It’s like a purifying breath of fresh air.

Healing happens.

Connection happens.

Relationships deepen.

What about you? How are you doing in showing evidence of your remorse when you experience it?

I know you’re a true Champion, and however well you may be doing it, I bet you’ll do it even better in the future!

Don’t we all want to live as the best version of ourselves? Free of the layers of ‘life-stuff’ we somehow have buried our best selves under?

Don’t we want to embrace the remorse, to forgive or ask for it…when there’s no reason to…in order to live free and happy?

The lack of remorse is the regret waiting for us at death or our path to it. The amazing leadership mentor/former minister Dr. John Maxwell says, “Our best life is an uphill climb.”

Yes. Our intention to surrender to remorse, is most assuredly uphill. But as we climb, the power of ‘heart & soul intent’ will rid our lives of all destructive arrogant pride, fearful driven control, unforgiving excuses filled with selfish ruminations that guarantee the release of toxic chemical curses into our bodies. Keeping our bodies/our lives under the spell of these ‘that’s just who I am’ mental loops, which without relent or any sense of remorse, control our lives and keep us trapped in victimhood … which will eventually leave us all alone.

Repentance is seeing it …

Remorse is doing it …

Remorseful repentance is feeling it/being it/living it …

THEN we will know…