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Remorse is a feeling of sorrowful regret over harm we have done. It is a feeling that produces tears. We feel genuine sadness for what we have done to hurt someone or ourselves.
There are different types of grieving. We may grieve a loss of something dear to us. We may grieve an injustice. To have remorse is to grieve for the hurtful mistakes we have made. Since grieving is a necessary part of healing, we need to go through the process of remorseful grieving to heal from the harm we have caused. Remorse enables us to move on. Remorseful grieving changes us emotionally so that we will not make the same mistake again. Through remorse, we learn emotionally what wise action is and what wise action is not.
Remorse is not self-condemnation. It is not about hating ourselves or judging ourselves. It is not about shame. It is simply about feeling sad for what we have done. Self-condemnation actually blocks remorse, because the focus is on the hated self rather than on the harm done. Self-condemnation blots out compassion, while remorse is an expression of compassion. Once we have neutralized self-condemnation with self-acceptance and forgiveness, sadness for what we have done remains. Remorse lives on after self-forgiveness, though it blends with the mix of other emotions and perspectives, such as joy, gratitude, and appreciation. With time, remorse comes into balance.
Thus remorse lives on, though its intensity may diminish over time. This is what the process of grieving is like. We need to allow ourselves to feel sad for what we have done, as this is natural and human, while at the same time forgiving ourselves for our human imperfection.
To have remorse, we need to recognize what we have done to harm ourselves or others. We have to then take responsibility for our actions. We need to hold ourselves accountable. Yet we need to do so without self-condemnation or judgment. We need to keep a solid wall between our self-worth and the worth of our actions. Actions have nothing to do with the sacred value of us, the actors. I call this naming it, claiming it, but not shaming it. Only then can we allow ourselves to fully feel the pain of what we have done. Once we can feel it, we can begin to heal it.
Emotional transformation and growth occur in part through feeling deeply the pain of our misdeeds. When we combine our pain with a commitment to learn from our mistakes and live differently going forward, change happens.
Some people cannot feel remorse. These are people with a defect in their humanity. They are either psychopathic, narcissistic, or otherwise suffering from a severe deficiency in their character. Without remorse, there can be no authentic change. These people need to put themselves aside and contemplate very deeply the human suffering they have caused, inviting the tears to flow. Ultimately they must cry not only for the harm they have caused others, but for the harm they have caused themselves. After all, one cannot separate the two.
We live in a pain-phobic society. We make pain an enemy. We try to escape it through addiction and other compulsive, numbing behaviors. People do not recognize the salvation that comes from fully facing and embracing their pain, including their remorse. If you truly want to heal and grow, let yourself fully grieve. Feel your remorse. Let it change your heart. Once your heart has changed, your life will change. To fully feel your remorse will bear you great fruit.
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