By Jennifer Fast January 22, 2024 01.22.2024 Share:
Anger Communication Conflict Connection Counseling Couples Family Marriage Premarital Problem Solving Reflection Relationships Therapy

Why write about contrition? This blog comes from my research on understanding how contrition is used in secular and religious contexts. I often hear the word contrition when working with couples, but it seems to me that most folks do not understand what contrition is and what it truly means to be contrite.

Origins of Contrite

The origins of the word contrite or contrition come from the Latin word contritus. Its literal translation means “crushed to pieces.” In English, contrite means to feel remorseful or regretful, and contrition means to do something that demonstrates that remorsefulness, such as some form of penitence.

The Usage of ‘Contrition’ within the Therapy Room

In the therapy room, when I hear a client say they are contrite, they often reference feeling regret or remorse. When one partner asks the other to show contrition such as in the case of an affair or some other betrayal, it is often misunderstood as a request for an apology. Regret is different from contrition because while it is a feeling, it is not action-oriented. Showing contrition is an active representation of remorse or regret. Tears, words, and countless “I’m sorry” do not represent contrition. And regret has never been sufficient to prompt a person to change their ways. Neither regret nor even remorse is as meaningful as genuine contrition.

Going Beyond Remorse

True contrition is a rare but essential feature of changing one’s life for the better. And while remorse is a prerequisite for contrition, it is still not sufficient for it. True contrition goes even beyond genuine remorse. The contrite individual not only hates the offense but also engages in a process of self-evaluation to better understand why they committed the offense in the first place. The contrite individual who betrayed their partner by having an affair actively works to determine why they made the choice to do so and what they need to do to prevent it from occurring again. So, contrition necessarily demands a firm internal resolution not only to make amends but also to make oneself a better person and to conduct oneself in a better fashion in the future. It requires a true change of heart. And even more, it requires work – a lot of extremely hard, humble, committed work for change.

Behavior is the Best Indicator of Change

One of the more reliable outward signs that a change of heart has taken place is the willingness and commitment to make amends. That is, the contrite person is not only “sorry” for what they have done but is willing to repair the damage inflicted on the lives of others. It is one thing to say you are sorry. But it is quite another to prove it by how hard you work to change. Behavior is the best indicator that real change is taking place. You know change is happening when the contrite person starts doing things differently.

In general, I think people give too much credence to apologies, especially in situations where lasting harm is evident. We buy into the notion that if a person says they are sorry, sheds some tears, looks unhappy, and appears to mean well, then things will be different. We give too much regard to the person’s expressed regret and sorrow and do not look hard enough for evidence of true contrition. A person’s genuine willingness and commitment to make amends is always accompanied by a plan of action to accomplish precisely those ends. In short, a person’s actions always speak louder than their words or even their emotional expressions. The contrite person starts doing things differently. They might not do so perfectly or every time. But they make a constant effort to reform their conduct, and when they fall short, they admit it and do their best to get back on course.

The truly contrite individual works to make amends, to do better, and above all, to be better. Do not accept anything less.

If you or anyone you know needs help or is looking for someone to talk to, schedule an appointment today with Dr. Jennifer Fast.

Newer Post: Anger 101 Older Post: Turning Shame into Accountability