Remorse vs Regret vs Guilt: Differences Easy Explained (2024)

In this guide, you’ll learn the key differences between remorse vs regret vs guilt.

These are emotions that come up in my life coaching sessions fairly regularly. That’s why I’m keen to share the differences between these words with you. 

So, let’s dive in.  

Remorse vs Regret

Both regret and remorse involve feeling bad for one’s actions.

The difference is: remorse involves feeling bad because you hurt someone else, but you can regret an action without caring whether it hurt someone. 

Maybe you regret stealing a cake because you got caught and now you face a punishment, for example. You’d only feel remorse if you felt bad for the cake’s owner. Also, remorse leads to one taking responsibility for the actions and trying to right their wrong, whereas regret might not.  

How Does A Person Show Remorse?

When we are hurt by someone’s behavior, we want to see that they feel remorse for what happened, not just regret. This makes it easier to forgive them and move on with our lives.

Remorse involves admitting one’s fault. A remorseful person will make an apology for the hurt they caused. Of course, a real apology will involve the person explaining how they hurt you and how they’ll be avoiding hurtful actions like this in the future. 

Better yet, they’ll take steps to right the wrong committed, or at least explain how they’re going to right the wrong in future. 

In most cases, you’ll be able to see the guilt and sorrow in their facial expression and body language.

Signs Of True Remorse

A sense of remorse leads to: 

  • a real and true apology;
  • the person taking take steps to right the wrong; 
  • you see the guilt in their face and body language.

Remorse vs Regret and Repentance

Most definitions of repentance involve regretting one’s actions, while committing to change the consequences of their actions for the better.

So, repentance is closely allied to remorse. 

In fact, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say: Regret + Repentance = Remorse

Remorse Vs Guilt

Guilt is the emotion you’ll feel after you shouldn’t have completed a certain action.

Indeed, guilt often leads to regret or remorse, but not always. 

You can arguably feel guilty for eating a chocolate cake, but not necessarily regret doing it (on a conscious level anyway). You might also not care that the rest of your work colleagues didn’t get a slice to themselves.  

Remorse Vs Guilt With Infidelity

Let’s explore further what I mean by not feeling guilt, but not regret on a conscious level using an example of infidelity.

A man cheats on his wife then feels this gnawing feeling of his conscience acting up. He knows it was a hurtful action. However, he doesn’t regret this hurtful action because she deserved it. When one feels guilt not regret, they’re often making excuses to rationalise their behavior. If they didn’t feel guilt either, they wouldn’t feel the need to be making excuses.

If this husband felt remorse he would admit (at least to himself) that he feels bad for the pain and sorrow that this hurtful action would cause his wife if he were to be caught. 

He would then take steps to right the wrong, which would probably involve improving his relationship and avoiding such hurtful actions in the future. Is it for the best that he admits his infidelity? That’s a debate for another time. 

Related Content: Unveiling The Grass Is Greener Syndrome Regret 

Regret And Remorse Statements

To solidify this idea in your head, I’ve presented some examples of remorse statements and regret statements, so you can get a stronger idea if someone feels one but not the other.

Regret Statements Lead One To Try And Avoid Punishment

Here are some examples of statements you might hear when someone feels regret, but not remorse. 

  • “I’m sorry that you took it that way.”
  • “Sorry, I didn’t think it was a big deal.” 
  • “Let it go. It’s in the past.”
  • “You know I didn’t mean it like that.”
  • “Please forgive me.” 

You might argue that the person making statements like these doesn’t even mean them. Indeed, regret statements are genuinely made just to avoid punishment and to fix the relationship. They don’t have to involve admitting blame or even disappointment.

Also, asking for forgiveness is not the same as a true apology. Without a true apology, it’s really difficult to tell if the culprit feels remorse. 

remorse vs regret
Photo By wirestock On freepik

Only Remorse Statements Lead To Action Being Taken 

Here are some statements you might hear from a remorseful person. 

  • “I’m so sorry that I hurt you.”
  • “I can see the pain this is causing you.”
  • “You have a right to be hurt.”
  • “I am absolutely taking responsibility for this.”
  • “What can I do to fix this?”
  • “How can I help you feel better?”

You’ll notice that only remorse statements focus on the consequences of the particular action and the other person’s emotions. Remorse involves admitting one’s fault, after all. The person is taking responsibility for the sadness they caused. Also, remorse statements lead to the person exploring how they can respond and fix the situation. 

Related: 10 Best Emotional Intelligence Coaches & Checklist

Lack Of Remorse Or Guilt

It’s argued that most humans naturally feel a sense of remorse for their hurtful actions. Some people say remorse is developed in a child through good parenting.

Either way, it’s an undeniable sign of a good person to be avoiding hurtful actions towards others, and to respond by trying to fix a particular action of theris which hurt someone. 

A lack of remorse or guilt can develop in a person who has been hurt many times in their life, by others who showed no remorse to them. This type of past can lead someone to stop caring for other people. 

There are also personality disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder, which are partly defined by a person being unable to feel a sense of remorse for others. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Regret And Remorse

What Is The Difference Between Remorse And Sorry?

As mentioned earlier, remorse involves regret for the emotions caused by your behavior. Meanwhile, you can feel sorry for someone without accepting any blame for the pain and sorrow they are feeling. “Sorry” is essnentially a word used to express sympathy in a much wider range of situations.  

Do Narcissists Have Remorse?

A narcissist rarely regrets actions that cause pain to others. Instead, they only focus on their own needs and desires. They only feel deep regret if their behavior causes problems in their own lives. An apology from a narcissist is rarely a real apology.

Related Content: Do Narcissists Feel Guilt? Key Insights 

What Is Buyer’s Remorse?

Buyer’s remorse is when someone regrets making a purchase, usually after calming down from a moment of spontaneity. Interestingly though, buyer’s remorse doesn’t have to involve any sense of guilt about hurting someone else (the merchant, for example). This is just one of the quirks of the English language. 

What’s The Difference Between Regret And Shame?

Regret is one wishing they hadn’t completed a certain action. Shame is an emotion where one feels bad about oneself. You might feel shame because you hurt someone and now you feel like a bad person. 

However, you could also experience shame because of the way you look. This is a common symptom of low self-esteem.  

Any Questions?

Thanks for reading my guide. I hope you now understand the differences between these words.

If you have a question about remorse, regret, guilt, fear, shame and other such things, feel free to leave a comment below.

Of course, it would be great to hear what you thought of this article. Either way, I’ll be wishing you all the best for the future.

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.