In this week’s spotlight I want to address the fine line between feeling remorse and falling into the abyss of self-pity. One might ask, is there any advantage to be gained by feeling remorse? One might also fairly ask, what is the difference between self-pity and remorse? So let’s begin by examining those two questions.
Guilt and Pain
Remorse is generally defined as deep regret or even guilt for a wrong committed. Now many in today’s world find guilt to be an unnecessary and damaging human emotion, but is it? Guilt is an emotional feeling that arises only when we perceive a particular form of discomfort, typically as a result of a wrong we have done. It is somewhat analogous to pain, a feeling we perceive as the result of a different form of discomfort. Pain is itself a signal informing us of important information, information critical to our health and wellbeing. Guilt is much the same—it informs us of our desire to be happier with our selves and therefore our sense of wellbeing. As such, guilt does have a natural and important role in our lives—but not necessarily one we need to cling to. That said, if we repeat behavior that we are ashamed of, we are likely to feel guilt again just as placing our hand a second time on hot burner will give rise to physical pain. And is this not a good thing? Do any of us wish to become desensitized to wrongs we do not wish to commit? Therefore, remorse arises as a result of actions we feel betray the person we want to be. When we feel remorseful it is because we failed ourselves. Now to be sure, the form of guilt I’m addressing is of our own personal failings and not the guilt others might want to foist upon us.
Now here is where poor pitiful me can destroy the benefit gained from remorse. It is indeed a slippery slope when we allow our regrets to impale our sense of worth or when we gain the ability to claim a kind of victimhood to life’s circumstances. Self-pity is simply disempowering! We must rightly recognize our errors and this gives rise to remorse, but as with pain, we can alter the signal by taking responsibility for our actions and by choosing differently in preparation to eliminate the behavior.
How do we do that? That is, how do we accept responsibility, sense enough regret that we define ourselves differently as to avoid ever repeating whatever we feel remorse for? The answer lies in understanding two things: 1. The importance of forgiveness; and 2. Realizing the power given us every day to begin anew.
I have written much about forgiveness but the bottom line comes down to this, reciprocity! We learn that the value of forgiving ourselves arises from our willingness to forgive all others. When we find forgiveness in our heart for others, we obtain the capacity to extend it to ourselves.
As for renewal, every day offers each of us an opportunity to become better human beings; to more closely fit our lives to the ideals we hold dear. Whether we decide to do this every day or not matters little to whether or not another day comes. In other words, if today is Tuesday, tomorrow will be Wednesday regardless of your decision to be a better person, to climb higher on your ladder of self-actualization, or to improve your opinion of who you are based on what you do.
Given this understanding, a person may begin to ask themselves, as I do, “How high is up? How good is good?” When you ask this of yourself, if you’re at all like me, you’ll find many opportunities to improve, to give more, to help more, etc.
I wish you a self-realization that pleases you in every way!
As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.