Remorse Regret and Sorry – A Triad of Social Psychology

Remorse, Regret, and Sorry are three words vital to adaptive living. These three words when practiced increase the probability of all social interactions being successful. Ignorance and / or refusal of this psychological triad lead to criminal and / or deviant behaviors with victimization as the modus operandi. Two diminutive words, "I'm Sorry", is one of the most powerful and complex phrases expressed in communication.

Since the beginning of civilization, this phrase has been part of all societal and cultural exchanges communicated through various languages. "I'm Sorry" will always be integral to social relationships. The promise of this phrase concretely illustrates how all people are fallible creatures. Actions and / or words can offend briefly or inflict a life long psychological scar void of healing. Understanding the meaning and origins of "I'm Sorry" will assist the reader in comprehending this powerful phrase.

The actual term, Sorry, dates back to prehistoric times and theorized to derive from the West Germanic term, Sairig, a derivative of Sairaz, with the English source denoting Sore. The original definition mean both physical and psychological pain. Over centuries of years, the word evolved into an expression of regret now coined, Sorry. Despite the resemblance, the word Sorry has no etymological connection with the term, Sorrow. This word also dates back to prehistoric Germanic language meaning "care." Contemporary German dialect uses the word, Sorge, meaning to worry or feel sorrow.

The term, Sorry, is an adjective with a multitude of meanings defining different communications expressed in social relationships. From a reductionist standpoint, and adding the identifier, I'm, the phrase a form of apology and expression of regret.

The definition of apology is an expression of regret for causing someone else trouble or pain. The definition of regret means to feel remorse or contrite about ones actions. Remorse and regret are two emotions people in general have a very difficult time experiencing and admitting.

Remorse is another vital term to succinctly understand the phrase, "I'm sorry." Without the experience of remorse, it is impossible to sincerely communicate regret for ones misdeed (s). Remorse is defined as a sense of deep regret and guilt for causing someone harm. Depending on the harm committed, severity of remorse can range from subtle to severe. The societal purpose of remorse is to educate people on behaviors not acceptable in social interactions.

Without the experience of remorse, people can not learn to change their actions leading to a more conducive lifestyle. Since the beginning of recorded history, civilization has written poetry, music, songs, and various other forms of communication in an attempt to define and express the experience of remorse. Without remorse for wrongdoings, society could not exist and isolation would be central to human existence.

The human being is a social creature surviving and thriving within a group dynamic. As part of this evolutionary structure, remorse and communication of regret is both encouraged and necessary for survival of all people, the homo sapiens.

Given the vital purpose of remorse and regret to humanity, the term, "I'm sorry", is often confounded by suspensions of sincerity. A person's character and integrity is a barometer of sincerity and the impact of communicating remorse is directly connected to the person's intent. If integrity is deemed suspect, then attempts to apologize can easily be construed as misguided void of sincerity.

Character and integrity related to being genuinely remorseful is tied to past, present, and future actions following their misdeed (s). Some are unforgivable while most are accepted provided specific actions are exhibited after his / her misdeed (s). The end product of actions following a misdeed is new learned behaviors reducing the potential for repetition of the specific misdeeds.

An analogy to illustrate human fallibility not addressed, changed, or redirected would be the person who suffers from alcoholism. Although the alcoholic is secretly aware his / her drinking causes pain and anguish to others, he / she continues to drink using a variety of defense mechanisms such as denial, displacement, and minimization. Engaged in the gradual demise of his / her character, integrity, and trust by others, the alcoholic may go years before experiencing remorse and abstaining from future alcohol consumption. The process of recognition, remorse, regret, recovery and rehabilitation illustrates the path all people should experience in the process of positive human adaptation.

Without remorse or regret for actions deemed hurtful by others, the probability for positive change is minuscule. Given the depths of the human mind, there are copious defense mechanisms ready to protect someone from feeling regret for their actions. The ability to say, "I'm sorry", and mean it requires an internal reservoir called conscience. Conscience is defined as a moral sense of right and wrong. This psychological construct affects a person's behavior and encourages functional behavior.

Consciousness, thinking, awareness, and self-awareness are all relevant facets of the consciousness. This construct is like a glass of water ranging from empty to full. Most people's reservoir of conscience ranges from to to f filled. As mentioned above, a part of the human condition is fallibility and prollivity to engage in non functional behavior (s). The less conviction a person possesses, the more apt he / she is at a risk for victimizing others. The severest outcome of lacking a vessel of conscience would be the criminal, deviant, or sociopathic mind.

The phrase, "I'm Sorry", is one of the most important phrases involved in the human experience. From the beginning of time and ad infinitum thereafter, the process of recognition, regret, remorse, and rehabilitation will always be a barometer for human adaptability. Laws, religions, philosophies, and familial guidelines for raising children are all geared to manage and reduce human suffering.

The goal is quite simple and easy to practice using five steps.

1. Expect others to become offended variable variability of perceptions filtering all human interactions.
2. Whether innocent or guilty causing others harm, initiate an apology followed by empathy for their experience.
3. Verbalize a plan for not offending in the future.
4. Introspect upon and initiate a paradigm shift reducing the potential for future offending action (s).
5. Never forget, always forgive, and foster mutual respect.


Source by Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.

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