What is remorse?

The producer of Lifetime Network’s upcoming documentary “24 to Life” asked me to define remorse while filming for the show prior to my self-surrender in April. Words that define a feeling assume perspective, but perspective is dependent upon experience which varies dramatically from person to person. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines remorse as: a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs. Similarly, sorrow is defined as: an uneasiness or anguish due to loss. While these definitions reflect the fundamentals of remorse and sorrow, they do not adequately capture the magnitude of the feelings I harbor for my past mistakes.

Marianne Paget in her book “The Unity of Mistakes” writes: “The sorrow of mistakes is sometimes very diffuse and sometimes very pointed. It is sometimes the sorrow of failed action and sometimes the sorrow of failed conduct. The sorrow of mistakes has been expressed as the too-lateness of human understanding as it lies along the continuum of time, and as a wish that it might have been different both then and now.” Ms. Paget’s words reflect the complexity of trying to define these experiential feelings, as she uses the word “sometimes” four times to expand the nature and scope of their meaning.

For Pat, Adam and my other friends at Lifetime who are thoughtfully capturing where this journey of recovery from human struggle commences, remorse and forgiveness characterize what is necessary to emerge as a better person. I have previously written about forgiveness, and I offer the following as my definition of remorse: remorse is the consciousness of sin that gives rise to deep reflection and synchronizes the mind, heart, soul and spirit in an attitude of regret and humility, displacing behavior that is recognized and repulsed as the root of past mistakes.

Maybe this definition, reflective of my experience, will resonate with others. I hope that it offers clarity of the feelings that drive my passion for a positive future by owning and overcoming the mistakes I have made, and provides peace and confidence to those who have invested their forgiveness in me. I also hope it inspires anyone reading this who may be broken and experiencing challenges of their own.

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