I’m Sorry: On Guilt and Regret

You don’t even know the meaning of the words “I’m sorry” (Illegal -Shakira)

I Am Sorry. Three words that are for what I believe are more often misunderstood than that other famous threesome. What does it mean to be sorry? It’s an expression used in a whole lot of different situations, from funerals (I’m sorry for your loss) to being late (I’m sorry, I missed my train) or being offended (I’m SORRY?!)

First of all, I believe it’s important to state a certain fundamental difference between Excuses and Apologies. Both make use of IAS (I Am Sorry), but one category is almost entirely devoted to taking the blame off one’s own name while the other is concentrated on admitting the blame. In a way they can be considered opposites, despite the similar choice of words.

I could fill a book about Excuses (I’m a pathological liar, klutz and latecomer, so you can imagine I have quite a bit of experience) but today I rather want to talk about Apologies. You admit a fault, a mistake, and with your words you intend to express something. The question? What.

In the title I mentioned two concepts that often get confused. Regret and Guilt. Once again there is a substantial difference. I had a conversation with Experiment No.7  lately about the meaning of an apology. He told me that he often has a hard time dealing with mine (when I make them) because I don’t feel guilty. Translation: the admission that I caused him an inconvenience does not make me feel bad about myself.  This is a general thing for me, I think I can safely say that for as far as I remember I have never felt “guilty”. Does the lack of guilt make an apology inherently worthless? Not in my opinion.

When you don’t feel bad about what you did, people tend to think you aren’t really “sorry”. That is not true. I tend to think when I apologize, it is an expression of regret rather than guilt. I acknowledge the inconvenience I caused someone else, and I also acknowledge that I would have rather seen this inconvenience not occurring. It is regret that someone else has trouble with my actions. In brash terms: “Don’t like me? Your loss.”

What is the true objective of an apology, one can ask? Is it to acknowledge that YOU did something wrong, or is it rather to acknowledge that THE OTHER has a problem with your behavior?

About quantumphysica

My name is QuantumPhysica The Insane, but you can call me QP. I am insane, admitted to a mental hospital in Belgium, and waiting for a decent diagnosis at the moment. Once I was a physics student with goals in life and what more; now I'm simply the patient of Room 93. Ever wondered what life is like in the psychiatric ward? I'll tell you everything you ever wanted to know... I am... particularly twitchy of personality. But I also am genuinely interested in everything. There is nothing that doesn't interest me, really. Everything, from quantum computers to fashion and cars to traveling... I also give advice. On anything. No taboos whatsoever. And I make lists of things...
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8 Responses to I’m Sorry: On Guilt and Regret

  1. I say I’m sorry to everything. I constantly think I have done something wrong and can feel extreme guilt. I overused “I’m sorry” that now, when I really mean it, I say “I apologize” or “please accept my apology”. It works a lot better than “I’m sorry”.

    There are times when I apologize and I don’t think I should have to which makes me understand why your apologies should not be discounted. You can still understand that you hurt someone and do what needs to be done to make sure that person does not feel hurt anymore.

    Can’t always get what you want so people should take it or leave it :p

    • We all say IAS in all its varieties a lot… It’s a peacekeeping mechanism…
      That you do actually feel guilt over your actions is less pleasant. Not about big things, I know very well why guilt comes in handy there (for lack of it I have often suffered xD) but if you feel real guilt even over little things I can imagine life is really complicated for you.

      I’m glad that you see my point 🙂
      In a way I value the other person’s feelings over the harsh truth… (yes I hurt you, yes I would do what hurt you again, collateral damage you know)

  2. When I say sorry to someone, I convey realization and action. Realization that I have hurt/put the out/made them angry, etc, and now I am aware of how they feel. I also make the pledge to never to do it again, otherwise saying “I’m sorry” is meaningless and just a word that is flung around because they are a space filler.

    • That’s quite… noble, in a way. I can admire that in someone.
      For myself that is a big impossibility though.
      I convey the realization, as in “yes, I know this hurt you in some way”, but I also know myself well enough not to make such a promise.
      When I don’t really regret the action I did itself (only the consequences), then you can be quite sure I will repeat the action some day, regardless of consequences.

  3. waywardweed says:

    I have two versions of IAS. In the first I’ll say the three words if I believe I said or did something wrong. In the second I’ll say, “I am sorry I hurt your feelings” (or ran over your dog,broke your vase, etc.). I may not feel guilty or feel I did anything wrong with the latter. I am merely acknowledging the other person’s pain. After many years of marriage, I find it helps keep the peace.

    • Ah yes, that is true.
      In my observations I have noticed that most of the apologies people made are more for others than for themselves. I know I’m kind of an exception with my underdeveloped conscience, but in general: from all the times you say IAS in a week, how often do you genuinely feel bad about doing that what you apologize for?
      IAS is a peacekeeping mechanism more than anything else, I think.

  4. Pingback: Guilt « Cheri Speak

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