Monday, September 12, 2011

How We Use Remorse. (part 2).

A reader wrote an article in reply to my How We Use Remorse. (Part 1):
with regards to things I can't help, I don't feel remorse about those.

This is exactly the way I feel about it. It's how psychopaths in general feel about it. So it may seem surprising if we still do never feel remorse. But it's simple in a sense, because I always feel I couldn't have acted any differently. That is, of course I'm aware that I can choose another line of action, but seen from my perspective I always have to do things exactly the way I do them, or I wouldn't be me.

But this may not be all there is to it. For I have done things and then later realized what I did was really wrong. It hasn't happened often, but I do remember it having happened. On those occasions I should feel remorse (or so I gather from what I've been told by so many people and psychologists, judges, etc.). And yet I do not. I feel disappointed and sometimes annoyed with myself, with the fact that I've made a mistake.

I have had experienced where I acknowledged I had wronged another person, that I had caused them pain or even suffering. If I have had any contact with these individuals, I have had no problems with giving them a sincere apology. I really do mean it when I apologize for having done something I wish I'd have done differently, or not at all.

But never once did I feel remorse.

The main thing that makes me wonder about it all, is that I can't see why feeling remorse is of any consequence, of any importance, whatsoever.

Isn't the fact that I acknowledge I have done something wrong, or done something I shouldn't have done at all, and apologizing for it - thereby showing that I appreciate it is meaningful to those I wronged to hear me admit this - isn't this what is important? Isn't it what those I wronged feel, and not what I feel, that is important?

Why do I have to feel bad also?...

It is as if there is a silent understanding saying it isn't enough to acknowledge a wrong and give an apology. If you want agreement, then you have to do more than apologize. It doesn't matter how sincere your apology is, you must do more than that: You must suffer also!

This I find unnecessary, unreasonable, and maybe even insincere on part of those who claim to want an apology but say they don't want revenge. If you're supposed to feel bad even if you give an apology, what is that if not revenge? It certainly does not have a logical purpose in and on itself in my understanding.

Or maybe I'm missing something?

I found this short article about the meaning and historical function of Apology. I think it brings up an interesting point. Maybe the idea of what an apology implies in our present culture is not such a universal given after all?

Usually when I give an apology after having realized I did something wrong, I actually feel quite good. I feel good because I've learned something new, something I can use to make better choices in the future.
Indeed, I have always felt good in these kinds of situations... But I have known since I was a small child that I am expected to feel bad, to show remorse, and I knew that if I didn't do so and do it convincingly, then people would be likely to not accept my apology as an apology, and they would think instead that I didn't mean it, that I was dishonest.

To this day it is how it is, and I have become quite adept in displaying the exact right level of remorse in the exactly right way, emphasizing the exactly right little details in behavior, such as bowing my head and avoiding eye contact just enough, make my movements sufficiently hesitatingly slow and my eyes big with a slightly questioning expression ("do you still hate me?... master?"), and so on.

I have to say that all this has sometimes made me dishonest about my apology. I would think: "So an apology isn't enough, they want me to feel bad on top of it?! They don't really accept my apology, they want me so suffer, and even though they claim otherwise, I must suffer, only then will they accept my apology!".

And this has made me silently feel resentment instead.


Comedian said...

I've always felt the same way in regards to apologies. The fact that
one acknowledges wrongdoing should be enough. It shouldn't have to be reenforced by emotion. Certainly not if the one apologizing doesn't have the ability to feel emotion to begin with.

Ettina said...

I think where remorse comes in is that it provides a further incentive not to do the thing again. People have many forces pushing and pulling them in different directions. Eg a person on a diet has the force of a desire to loose weight, but also the force of anticipating the yumminess of that chocolate cake. And both of those can be combinations of multiple forces - the desire to loose weight could be health related, could be because her boyfriend theatened to leave her because she's getting fat, could be because she feels a great deal of self-hatred focused on her appearance, etc. The desire to eat the chocolate cake could be because she likes the taste, because she's found eating is a good way to distract herself from negative emotions, could be because she's really hungry since many diets basically account to starving yourself, etc.

When you have the opportunity to do something that harms another person but helps you, each person will have several forces in both ways such as desire to get an advantage, fear of punishment, etc. For most people, not wanting to feel remorse about their actions later on is one of the forces pushing them away from harming others. For psychopaths, there's one less thing pushing them away from harming others. And that means that a psychopath doesn't need as much incentive to harm someone as a non-psychopath does.

Bella said...

I think the mistake I have made in the past was to tailor make my apologies for the receiver. Like if they are a dick, they get a short 'sorry, cause a dick won't respect anything more anyway, or a long drawn out apology for someone sensitive I really care about, because I want them to feel better because I really like them. I just don't want to think so hard about the way things come out anymore.

A while back I wanted to apologize to someone or some people. It was months and months ago. I was insensitive to prove a point. I didn't know who was listening. At the time I was pissed off so I refused to act on my impulse to apologize. That was so uncomfortable I froze.

Anonymous said...

I find it rather amusing acting sad yourself causes an apology to take that much more weight.

lele said...

Your reasoning makes sense: you apologize after recognizing you have wronged someone. And yet, what is the most common form of apology? "I'm sorry", that is: you are expected to suffer too.

I have to say that with people I respect but I don't love, my apologies are the same kind as yours: sincere, but entirely "rational"; but whenever I happen to wrong someone I care about, I feel remorse, I can't help it. Actually, to me, it doesn't make much sense: no matter how much I suffer, I can't undo what I've done, so what? Maybe we think that by suffering we kind of expiate our wrongdoings. Saying "I have made a mistake" is not enough.

Moreover, in your case, there is another issue: you care to apologize. This is a behavior I'd qualify as social.

To me your way seem acceptable: as long as you recognize with yourself you have made a mistake, and avoid doing such mistake again, you are a respectable person.

Unknown said...

If you punch someone in the face, do you think you would think about "Gosh, I punched this person in the face. He/she's probably going to go tell all her friends, my reputation is going to be harmed, and it's probably going to make my life a little harder down the road. I really regret punching this person in the face." ?

I eat babby said...

@Unknown January 1, 2012 7:39 PM

//If you punch someone in the face, do you think you would think about "Gosh, I punched this person in the face.//

No, my intent was... to punch the person inthe face. Why would that be a suprise in anyway ?

//He/she's probably going to go tell all her friends, my reputation is going to be harmed, and it's probably going to make my life a little harder down the road.//

First of all, myself, I do not care what others think about me. I'm not wired to do so. Secondly, I would not just lash out and punch someone unless it was provoked or the person deserved it.

//I really regret punching this person in the face." ? //


Reading is good, you should try it sometime.

Anonymous said...

The reason you are supposed to feel bad during an apology is because it reinforces that you truly mean it, and won't repeat the actions of which you are sorry for. When someone is apologized to by someone who regrets and feels bad for their actions, they will read their emotions and see them as adding legitimacy to the apology. Conversely, an apology which is given without any feelings of remorse will seem fake. "How can this person care when they don't even feel bad?"

It's important to realize that the expression of emotion is a form of nonverbal communication, so while you may verbally apologize and mean what you say, to a neurotypical you are communicating that you don't care.

Anonymous said...

I think the item you're missing about saying you're sorry and actually feeling it, is that that is the way people "connect". Since you have no desire to do so (as you are not wired like that, like you said yourself) I don't see why your apology would be less valid.

It's just that the rest of us ARE wired like that, so your kind of apology seems strange to us. Now that you explained it (and if I ever meet another psycho again) I can appreciate it :)

Like more things (love, remorse, etc) that you don't really feel and we do, is just something other humans have as a "toolt" to connect. It's all about that. And you are missing out on that, I'm sorry for you.