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Alcohol and Mental Health

Remorse and Regret: Your Emotional GPS

Published:
July 5, 2023
·
9 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 5, 2023
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9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 5, 2023
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9 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 5, 2023
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9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 5, 2023
·
9 min read

It’s just another regular Tuesday. You're having your third coffee of the day, silently judging the guy with socks and sandals at the other side of the café, when you suddenly recall that cringe-worthy moment from five years ago when you were overheard making fun of your roommate’s passion for animal print. Or that time you bought a pair of furry flip flops on impulse and found out you couldn’t return them.

Yikes, right? But here's the question: do you regret it, or do you feel remorse? These two emotions — often mistaken as twin siblings in our psychological family — are actually more like distant cousins. As it turns out, though, both serve a useful purpose.

A Dueling Duo

Both remorse and regret make us feel like the villains in our own story because of something unfortunate that happened in the past — and they nag us with the reminder that we played a role in it. But while both deal with our past decisions, regret and remorse are quite different.

Regret focuses on the decision itself: it's about wishing we'd zigged instead of zagged, chosen another path, or hadn’t let an opportunity slip away. It’s the emotion associated with wishing things had been different — a painful realization that our actions or decisions led to undesirable outcomes.

Remorse, on the other hand, is less about the decision and more about the aftermath. Remorse doesn't just point out our missteps. It makes us feel the emotional implications of our actions, particularly if they've hurt others. It's concerned with our actions’ impact on others and our subsequent feelings of guilt. It includes a desire to fix or make amends for the wrongdoings that caused harm to others. Remorse, friends, is that heavy feeling in your gut after you've made a boo-boo.

Your Brain, Remorse, and Regret

Certain regions — such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the amygdala — work in harmony to generate feelings of regret and remorse.

In the brain, regret is mediated by an area called the orbitofrontal cortex — the same area that lights up when we’re expecting a reward. When we do something we later regret (for example, when we drink too much), the brain is flooded with neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. This cocktail of chemicals triggers feelings of guilt, creating that sensation we've come to know as regret.

On the contrary, remorse involves the amygdala — a small almond-shaped structure associated with emotions and, importantly, empathy. Remorse boosts activity in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, signaling a deeper understanding of our missteps and their impacts on others.

A Mental Barometer

While regret and remorse are unpleasant, they can also be constructive. They’re our brain's way of saying, "Hey, you goofed up! Learn from this, will ya?"

Regret nudges us to rethink our decisions, whereas remorse encourages us to make amends and grow emotionally — both handy tools for self-improvement.

In fact, there's an evolutionary advantage to these feelings. In our ancient past, when we lived in small groups, actions that harmed the community could get us ostracized. A feeling of remorse after such actions could motivate us to make amends, helping us stay in the group's good graces.

So, in a way, remorse is like a social GPS, steering us towards actions that build trust and harmony in our relationships. It can help us recognize when we've overstepped a boundary or acted thoughtlessly, prompting us to make things right. Likewise, regret served as an important wake-up call in the days when missing an opportunity could be a matter of life and death.

But remember, too much of anything leads to trouble. Too much of either can tip into unhealthy guilt, so it's important to manage these emotions effectively.

What Can You Do About It?

Here are some actionable steps to manage and learn from regret and remorse, while still maintaining your sunny disposition.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. Give yourself permission to feel regret or remorse without judgment. Emotions aren't good or bad, they just are — so own them.
  • Transform regret into reflection. View regret as a signal to reassess. What's the takeaway? Could you make a different choice next time?
  • Act on remorse. If you've done something that hurts someone else, offer a sincere apology. Make amends if possible, even if it's just a heartfelt conversation. A simple, sincere “I'm sorry” can work wonders and be your life's Ctrl+Z.
  • Forgive yourself. This is crucial, folks. Everyone makes mistakes! It's essential to learn to forgive yourself.
  • Use mistakes as a springboard. Every mistake can be a growth opportunity. Use regret and remorse as fuel to better yourself and try to prevent the same mistakes from happening again. Regret and remorse are part of life. It's important to feel them, but don't let them overshadow your joy and happiness. In the end, it’s all about being mindful of our actions in the present to minimize future regrets and remorse.
  • Build a buffer. Practice patience, empathy, and understanding to buffer yourself against future remorse.

A Brighter Future

So there you have it, a journey through the fascinating world of regret and remorse. So, next time you’re recalling an embarrassing moment or an error in judgment, remember it’s okay. Regret helps us learn from our past mistakes, while remorse pushes us towards making amends and behaving more considerately in the future. Uncomfortable as they might be, regret and remorse help shape us into better, more compassionate versions of ourselves.

It’s just another regular Tuesday. You're having your third coffee of the day, silently judging the guy with socks and sandals at the other side of the café, when you suddenly recall that cringe-worthy moment from five years ago when you were overheard making fun of your roommate’s passion for animal print. Or that time you bought a pair of furry flip flops on impulse and found out you couldn’t return them.

Yikes, right? But here's the question: do you regret it, or do you feel remorse? These two emotions — often mistaken as twin siblings in our psychological family — are actually more like distant cousins. As it turns out, though, both serve a useful purpose.

A Dueling Duo

Both remorse and regret make us feel like the villains in our own story because of something unfortunate that happened in the past — and they nag us with the reminder that we played a role in it. But while both deal with our past decisions, regret and remorse are quite different.

Regret focuses on the decision itself: it's about wishing we'd zigged instead of zagged, chosen another path, or hadn’t let an opportunity slip away. It’s the emotion associated with wishing things had been different — a painful realization that our actions or decisions led to undesirable outcomes.

Remorse, on the other hand, is less about the decision and more about the aftermath. Remorse doesn't just point out our missteps. It makes us feel the emotional implications of our actions, particularly if they've hurt others. It's concerned with our actions’ impact on others and our subsequent feelings of guilt. It includes a desire to fix or make amends for the wrongdoings that caused harm to others. Remorse, friends, is that heavy feeling in your gut after you've made a boo-boo.

Your Brain, Remorse, and Regret

Certain regions — such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the amygdala — work in harmony to generate feelings of regret and remorse.

In the brain, regret is mediated by an area called the orbitofrontal cortex — the same area that lights up when we’re expecting a reward. When we do something we later regret (for example, when we drink too much), the brain is flooded with neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. This cocktail of chemicals triggers feelings of guilt, creating that sensation we've come to know as regret.

On the contrary, remorse involves the amygdala — a small almond-shaped structure associated with emotions and, importantly, empathy. Remorse boosts activity in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, signaling a deeper understanding of our missteps and their impacts on others.

A Mental Barometer

While regret and remorse are unpleasant, they can also be constructive. They’re our brain's way of saying, "Hey, you goofed up! Learn from this, will ya?"

Regret nudges us to rethink our decisions, whereas remorse encourages us to make amends and grow emotionally — both handy tools for self-improvement.

In fact, there's an evolutionary advantage to these feelings. In our ancient past, when we lived in small groups, actions that harmed the community could get us ostracized. A feeling of remorse after such actions could motivate us to make amends, helping us stay in the group's good graces.

So, in a way, remorse is like a social GPS, steering us towards actions that build trust and harmony in our relationships. It can help us recognize when we've overstepped a boundary or acted thoughtlessly, prompting us to make things right. Likewise, regret served as an important wake-up call in the days when missing an opportunity could be a matter of life and death.

But remember, too much of anything leads to trouble. Too much of either can tip into unhealthy guilt, so it's important to manage these emotions effectively.

What Can You Do About It?

Here are some actionable steps to manage and learn from regret and remorse, while still maintaining your sunny disposition.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. Give yourself permission to feel regret or remorse without judgment. Emotions aren't good or bad, they just are — so own them.
  • Transform regret into reflection. View regret as a signal to reassess. What's the takeaway? Could you make a different choice next time?
  • Act on remorse. If you've done something that hurts someone else, offer a sincere apology. Make amends if possible, even if it's just a heartfelt conversation. A simple, sincere “I'm sorry” can work wonders and be your life's Ctrl+Z.
  • Forgive yourself. This is crucial, folks. Everyone makes mistakes! It's essential to learn to forgive yourself.
  • Use mistakes as a springboard. Every mistake can be a growth opportunity. Use regret and remorse as fuel to better yourself and try to prevent the same mistakes from happening again. Regret and remorse are part of life. It's important to feel them, but don't let them overshadow your joy and happiness. In the end, it’s all about being mindful of our actions in the present to minimize future regrets and remorse.
  • Build a buffer. Practice patience, empathy, and understanding to buffer yourself against future remorse.

A Brighter Future

So there you have it, a journey through the fascinating world of regret and remorse. So, next time you’re recalling an embarrassing moment or an error in judgment, remember it’s okay. Regret helps us learn from our past mistakes, while remorse pushes us towards making amends and behaving more considerately in the future. Uncomfortable as they might be, regret and remorse help shape us into better, more compassionate versions of ourselves.

Thinking of Starting Your Journey With Reframe? You Won’t Regret It!

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