Regret vs Remorse


I used to facilitate a workshop for men and a specific process for accountability where the individual attendees who were out of integrity with the commitment that they made owned up to it. The attending would have an opportunity to look at the impact of his behavior upon someone else or others and grow to understand that in the society at large, we may get an overpass but covert damage to our relationship with someone else from our actions.

Eventually, I added a small touch to my facilitation.

“You feel remorse for what you did or didn’t do for that matter,” I would ask.

Recently, I realized that I may have been confusing regret and remorse and started to investigate the differences since they seem so similar to me.

I found this definition in Psychology Today in an article by Margalis Fjelstad Ph.D., LMFT. Her experience is dealing with people with certain personality disorders. But that doesn’t negate the definitions that apply to our thinking.

Regret has to do with wishing you hadn’t taken a particular action. You may regret an action because it hurt someone else, but you may also regret it because it hurt you, it cost you something emotionally or financially or led to punishment or undesirable result. Regret can lead a person to feel sorrow, grief, hurt, and anger — but these can be for the pain he or she feels for the self, not necessarily for the other person who was hurt by the behavior.”

“Remorse involves admitting one’s own mistakes and taking responsibility for one’s actions. It creates a sense of guilt and sorrow for hurting someone else and leads to confession and true apology. It also moves the remorseful person to avoid doing the hurtful action again. Regret leads a person to avoid punishment in the future, while remorse leads to avoiding hurtful actions towards others in the future.”

“Regret statements usually sound like this:

  • “I’m sorry that you took it like that.”
  • “I’m not making excuses, but you do that too.”
  • “I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t want to make you mad.”
  • “Why can’t you let it go? It’s in the past.”
  • “You know I didn’t mean that.”
  • “Please forgive me. (Asking for forgiveness is not the same as an apology.)

Remorse statements lead to a true apology, including concern for your feelings, and responsibility for their actions:

  • “I’m sorry that I hurt you. What can I do to help you?”
  • “I see the pain this is causing you.”
  • “I should not have said/done_________________.”
  • “You have a right to be angry.”
  • “I was wrong.”
  • “I understand that it could take you a while to get over being hurt.”
  • “How can I help you feel better?”

Regret statements sound like a politician talking. Remorse statements demonstrate your care and admission of fault.

She concludes, “Only remorse leads to a real apology and change.”

Listen to how people express themselves. This is true of managers, as well as staff. This is true of friends, husbands, wives, partners, children, extended family, and many others.

Are they just trying to get you off their back or do they seem to really care?

It’s important to know the difference.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2021



Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the Career Angles | Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunterhost of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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