Regret, Remorse and Guilt

Get ready for blood, gore and wasted time!

The happy three friends that can’t be unseen

I agree that regret may be inevitable in a richly lived life. However, I think that type of regret is much less robust than regrets about things one rally should have done (morally speaking), but didn’t. says Mike

This above is Mike’s note on my story on regret, where I was making the case for regret being a type of curiosity and a natural effect of a lived life.

So, pursuing your idea Mike Sturm a bit further, I thought about guilt versus regret and the biggest and flashiest of problems was this: can a criminal honestly acknowledge regret about his/her actions?

For example, parole hearings deal a lot with regret from detainees, yet being in prison is not a matter of wrong choice. Common law is inspired from our instinctual morality and it is just as much of a dictatorship as morality is. Therefore, you cannot think of a criminal, no matter if rapist, murderer or petty thief, like having a choice between doing the crime and not doing the crime. There is no choice, there is solely the act and when such things such as character are brought up in court, it is meant to distract from the act itself, like in the case of Brock Turner.

In fact, we don’t judge people for things they don’t do. We only judge ourselves for things we didn’t do.

For example, in Turner’s case, if we judge him by what he didn’t do, we sentence him to six months, of which he served three, because, hey, he didn’t really rape the girl. This is bad law, this is when the judge dismissed the complete lack of guilt assessment and instead focused on regret. Do you know what Turner regrets? That he was drunk! This could mean for example, that he could have done a better job than get caught had he been sober. That is why he should have been sentenced without any mitigating circumstances, so he’d get the time he needs to build the guilt he deserves.

Guilt is the only verdict we’re devising in all trials. Regret actually means nothing when the subject is love, morality or law. No jury ever found the defendant regretful, only guilty or not guilty. No lover ever wanted your regret but only your passionate love in return, even when you make a love mistake, especially then, you being passionately in love is the only plead accepted by the hurt heart in the jury box.

I think the difference between guilt and regret is in the fact that regret stems from a question with multiple answers, while guilt stems from a question with a yes or no answer. Regret is a logical tree, guilt is a binary switch.

In love, for example, while in love with someone, I am sure anyone can confirm the drowning guilt flowing from even thinking about loving someone else. If you are in a love relationship and you feel regret for not being in another relationship, it usually is not connected to your current relationship, it is some distant memory, some disconnected fantasy. If you are seriously considering someone else as a better option and you experience this as regret, you probably aren’t in love really.

The problem is how well do people differentiate between these two emotions, regret and guilt? Are they both emotions? In my opinion, guilt is a sentiment and regret is an emotion. Regret is connected to thoughts while guilt is connected to sensations.

This reminds me of this line from a movie: guilt comes after orgasm, during a flirty discussion between married people.

Going back to the prison punishment, do victims actually desire regret in the perpetrators or do they want guilt? Is revenge seeking to inflict guilt or regret? I think well planned revenge should seek to overpower the target with guilt, for if we manage to awake regret in the object of our vengeful actions we are inadvertently lessening the pain we inflict.

Religions handle this right. No one cares if you regret, they want you to repent, which means literally to be crushed by guilt. Yet, it appears that in moral issues, guilt does a poor job in bringing people on the right track. The masses who act as scripted by the fear of guilt, would have behaved properly anyway because we have other kinds of pain to inflict on those who do not conform, and they simply avoid any societal pain.

At the halfway between regret and guilt you’ll find remorse. But remorse is neither an emotion nor a sentiment, it is a state, and that makes remorse last longer than both regret and guilt. A life of regret is made of many regrets, a life of guilt is unlivable, but a life of remorse is more common than it should be.

To be sorry is an all encompassing description for all of our three friends here, that is why you have questions such as: “you have regrets, but are you really sorry?”, meaning “is guilt eating away at your spleen, keeping you up and sweaty at night and down and dry by day? ’cause regrets, well …, I also have a bunch and they’re not that bad”.

The enemy of guilt is pride. But, this is a subject for a future story because my remorse of spending a Saturday evening on Medium is overpowering.

Love me, I dare you.


Thin Man, I mention you ’cause maybe you can throw some cents of the mind this way, since I guess, (guess!) you’d be familiar with this topic, plenty!