It is a rare occurrence, and often not a very effective way to communicate a regret.
But in an article on The Irish Mail on Sunday, a medical student, Dr. Jodie MacKay, said she was in the midst of a three-month study to examine the impact of people’s expressions of regret on their health and well-being.
The article by Dr. MacKay said it was the second time she had had to examine regret on the part of her students.
“The first time was when I was teaching medical students and I had students apologise for being absent from class and they felt guilty.
We had to ask them if they had done it because it felt like a form of self-harm, but it wasn’t, so I decided to go back to this and make sure it was a real thing,” she said.
She was surprised to find that the students who were more likely to regret their behaviour were the ones who were not in the best physical condition to say sorry.
“What I was really surprised about was that they were more aware of their body’s response to pain than they were of their pain,” she told The Irish Mirror.
“When they feel bad about something they may be thinking that they are doing something wrong and it’s not something that’s really in the realm of human nature to apologise.”
Dr MacKay found that one of the key factors was that the apology was more of a statement of regret rather than an acknowledgement of a fault.
“In the case of the apology it was an acknowledgement that something has gone wrong and I think the fact that we had students talk about it was really helpful because it was more about feeling sorry about it and saying ‘sorry’,” she said, adding that this was the first time she was able to look at regret as a mental state rather than a physical one.
Dr Mac Kay is now conducting a similar study on regret in the context of mental health, to see if this is a common occurrence.
Dr. Mac Kay said her study will be conducted in a controlled environment and will look at people’s responses to regret in a series of different ways.
She said that she hopes to begin the research in 2019.
“I’m interested in what the response of people is to their regret,” she explained.
“It may not be a very straightforward process, but I think it’s very interesting and it might help us understand how we respond to regret and the ways in which we respond.”
There may be some benefits to having people say sorry for things, because it’s a more personal experience.
“Dr. Jim Mascaro, an expert on mental health and wellbeing at The University of Sydney, agreed.”
For people with mental health problems, the problem is not that they’re not able to say what they regret,” he told The Conversation.”
It’s that they have an internalised and negative reaction to it.
“Mental health disorders are really quite complicated and there’s a lot of people who struggle with these problems, but they tend to be very sensitive to it and very difficult to say, ‘I’m sorry’ to them, and I believe that having a positive expression of regret could be a way of helping those people to deal with their own internalised negativity.”
Dr Mascaros research found that a range of different types of expressions of remorse were more effective than just acknowledging the error.
“We’ve found that for people who have problems with internalising the wrong, there’s actually a greater need to express remorse, especially if that’s something that they can’t quite express to others,” he said.
“Some of the studies that have been done suggest that there’s something called the ‘sensory compensation’ principle and that when we are experiencing a traumatic event, we experience a reduction in our ability to process the trauma, but when we feel sorry for ourselves, we can more easily process the pain.”
Dr Jim Moulton, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, said that the research into regret could help improve mental health.
“Research shows that people who experience a lot more regret are less likely to seek help for their mental health,” he added.
“This research suggests that having people express regret can help people to improve their wellbeing and help them to reduce the impact that their mental disorders have on their lives.”
Dr McKay hopes that by studying the relationship between regret and physical health, she will be able to determine whether there are any benefits to acknowledging one’s regret in situations such as school, work or in relationships.
Dr Mc Kay is the director of the Mental Health Institute at The Australian National University.
She is a member of the Australian College of Mental Health and Psychologists and a consultant psychologist to the Royal Australasian College of Psychiatrists.