Guilt vs Regret: Difference and Comparison

Guilt and regret are two emotions we experience a lot like humans, these are both stages of change in a person’s life and are very closely related to healing in a person’s mental state.


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However, one must not confuse them as being synonymous they are two completely different emotions and need to be tackled in completely different ways.

Key Takeaways

  1. Guilt is feeling remorse or responsibility for an action that violates one’s moral or ethical standards. At the same time, regret is the feeling of sadness or disappointment for a missed opportunity or action.
  2. Guilt often involves a sense of personal responsibility, while regret may not.
  3. Guilt can lead to self-punishment or restitution, while regret often leads to reflection and a desire to do better in the future.

Guilt vs Regret

Guilt is the feeling of being regretful or responsible for an offence or the fact of having committed an implied or specified crime and is related to grief. Regret is the feeling of being sad, disappointed or repentant over something that you have done or failed to do. It is a feeling of distress.

Guilt vs Regret

Guilt originates in a person out of conscience a person possesses a certain moral compass. In a classical sense, the word originates from the old English word gylt which would commonly refer to a crime or sin or even moral dubiousness.

Guilt is very closely related to grief, it is a natural emotion that has been used in much classical literature.

Regret is a state of repentance due to some kind of inaction or an action that was uncalled for in a certain situation.

In classical etymology, the word originates from the French word regreter which would refer to long for something or someone and when it was introduced as an English word, its meaning morphed into “a feeling of distress in the mind at something done or left undone.

Comparison Table

Parameter of comparisonGuiltRegret
DefinitionA committing of a crime or an offence breaking the lawThe repentance of not acting or acting in a certain way
HistoryIts usage first started in early 14th century EnglandIts usage first started in late 14th century France
Literary UsesThe feeling of guilt has been used in famous works for example “The Fall” by Albert CamusThe feeling of regret has been used in works like “The imperfect Enjoyment” by John Wilmot
Emotional ImpactIt is one of the seven stages of griefIt is not a part of the seven stages of grief
EtymologyIt originates from an old English wordIt originates from a French word
Difference table between Guilt and Regret

What is Guilt?

Guilt by definition is an emotion that is born when a person believes that they have been unfaithful to their standards of conduct.

Guilt is a state of mind in which one experiences internal conflict at having done something that one believes one should not have done. Sigmund Freud described this as an outcome of the struggle between the ego and the superego.

It is a common response to doing something ill. It is an instinctual reaction to a bad action. Alice Miller claims that most people experience the guilt of not living up to parental expectations, and this is the most common guilt.

There is also the fact of guilt that is not based on internal conflicts and thus having a pang of existential guilt about living life due to actual harm to others.

In evolutionary psychology, psychologists theorize that guilt helps maintain beneficial relationships. If a person feels guilty when he harms another, he is less likely to harm others and more likely to show kindness to people around him.

These people are good at forming a relatively stable group. They deal with conflict in a rather empathetic way. Thus guilt makes it possible for us to forgive.


What is Regret?

Regret basically refers to a sensation or feeling that is rather complicated in nature, one tends to have a strong feeling that another wiser decision must have been taken provided the consequences.

The perception of this emotion stems from a longing for a certain outcome in a given situation, some in action, and regarding self-control.

‘Agent regret’, on the other hand, is a particular concept. It throws light on how a person can be in any circumstance and regret their involvement in it, despite the fact that this involvement was innocent or unintentional.

Regret is very different from remorse in the sense that it is heavier in terms of responsibility.

For example, a child can regret not going outside to play while it’s still sunny outside, but the remorse borne by a man for killing his children would not compare to a lightly used term- ‘regret’.

This is exactly why if a person is directly involved with whatever caused the accident, he may feel remorse. Regret stems from the failure to achieve a certain outcome from a certain situation.


Main Differences Between Guilt and Regret

  1. Guilt is an emotional response to an immoral action or some kind of inaction, while regret is an emotional response to an action that has already happened but wishes did not happen
  2. Guilt is primarily a social tool that exists to instinctually promote empathy among humans Regret, on the other hand, is more of repercussions of action taken
  3. Guilt can originate due to grief and, in severe cases, branch out into more of a downward spiral Regret is, however a negative emotion that can be predicated upwards
  4. Guilt, etymologically speaking, comes from old English gylt while regret comes from the old French register
  5. Guilt is an emotion that can be felt even when you are part of a group. The phenomenon is called group guilt, while regret is a highly personal emotion
Difference Between Guilt and Regret

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