Concept of the Month -- February 2006

Sporadic Remorse Elevates the Criminal's View of Himself as a Good Person

A hallmark of criminal behavior is the failure to be remorseful, or so it is said. Actually, experiencing remorse for victimizing another human being is not alien to the offender's experience. A man broke into a home and cleaned it out of valuable antiques and heirlooms. Upon learning that the owner was suffering from a terminal illness, the offender was so remorseful that he arranged to have the stolen items returned. Remorse clearly was a positive force in restoring property to the victim (although it did nothing for the terrible emotional aftermath that the victim suffered). The fact that he made this restitution did not in any sense deter this same offender from in the future breaking into other homes and stealing.

Criminals do experience remorse. But it is not a reliable deterrent to committing other crimes. Many an offender, juvenile and adult, has expressed remorse about hurting a parent -- a parent who had stuck by him, bailed him out of a jam, supported him financially and emotionally and offered him numerous second chances. However, when that parent tried to question the offender about where he was going, whom he was with, and what he was doing, this parent again became a target for anger, ridicule, and derision.

The fact that he experiences remorse, rather than deterring future misconduct, actually enhances the criminal's view that he is a good person. It does not lead to enduring changes in his thought processes or lasting reform in his conduct.

Return to Dr. Samenow's Homepage