Contrition and Character Growth


What is contrition? It’s a state of being. And it’s essential to rooting out one’s character defects and becoming a better person. I’ve written about this topic before. (See, for example: Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Contrition.) But it’s worth talking about again.

  • Contrition’s definition explains its importance. The word literally means “crushed spirit.” The contrite person more than regrets their error. Regret has a lot to do with what someone’s misstep might have cost them personally. And the contrite person is more than remorseful, too. Remorse goes beyond regret, in that it involves feeling badly about the injury caused another. It inherently, therefore, involves empathy. But the contrite person hurts in a qualitatively different way, even from the genuinely remorseful person. Their heart aches precisely because of the heartache they know they caused another. Accordingly, to fully mend their own heart they must do their best to help heal the heart they wounded.
What Contrition Looks Like

It’s hard to describe what genuine contrition looks like. Perhaps a better way to illustrate its character is to describe what it doesn’t look or sound like.

It doesn’t sound like:

  • “I’ve said I’m sorry a million times! How many times must I say it?!”
  • “When will you ever let it go?! It happened weeks ago!”
  • “Are you going to act wounded forever?”
  • “Can’t we just get back to ‘normal’?!”
  • I’ll go to therapy if it will get you off my back!”

And it doesn’t look like:

  • Fuming and huffing when called out for again reneging on one’s promise.
  • Doing the same thing time and time again and expecting a half-hearted apology to suffice for making things okay.
  • Expecting an often betrayed partner to trust again just because you’ve been more honest or faithful for a time.

Contrite folks understand and accept that they have the obligation to do the work of repair. They made the mess, so it’s their mess to clean. And they don’t do the mopping up grudgingly. Nor do they have to be cajoled or coerced. They might not always be gleeful about it, but they certainly do it willingly. And they understand that reforming their ways benefits everyone. In short, contrition is not about the offender feeling better. It’s about them finding the heart to be better. That necessarily means work. But it’s that freely undertaken labor that defines genuine love.

Contrition and Character Growth

We all make mistakes. And we all have our character shortcomings. But to develop integrity of character we have to properly reckon with the errors of our ways. That takes honesty, humility, and most especially, true contrition.

Today’s installment of Character Matters begins a discussion of the aforementioned and related issues. And you can also find these topics discussed in Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing, The Judas Syndrome, How Did We End Up Here?, and at length in my latest offering, Essentials for the Journey.


10 thoughts on “Contrition and Character Growth

  1. I’ve never seen someone with a disturbed character show contrition. Never. It seems to me that is the hallmark of character disturbance. By their lack of fruits you shall know them.

    1. Grace,

      Spot on! They don’t show or feel contrition because you deserved it! Whatever it was that they did or didn’t do was your fault. Their entitlement tells them so.

  2. A friend of mine has betrayed their spouse for many many years with porn. Her spouse is seemingly trying to change. He’s not been “caught” in 2 years now as he claims he desperately wants to remain married. He makes amends with her, kicking in doing more than his fair share.
    He’s asking her to share Dr. Simons posts with him so he can basically reform himself. Do you think this is a good idea? He claims he really wants to be free of his addiction.

    1. Kind of confused. If he’s aware of Dr. Simon’s work, why is he asking her to share it with him? He’s a grown up and can quickly access it himself. Not her job.

      Am I missing something? Seems like I am.

      1. I asked her to ask him about this. He says he doesn’t want to infringe on her group as she sought this for her healing.
        Does that seem strange? I’m thinking he’s telling her he wants to respect her boundaries? I could be wrong.

        1. It’s hard to say as I don’t know them or their relationship. What I do know is that folks with addictions have a reputation for lying and manipulation. Is this a manipulation? Don’t know. He could order the books on his own and not br concerned about busting her boundaries.

          For me, with my history with addicts, I’m super skeptical. Been burned too many times by false hope and believing manipulatipve BS.

          Hope he’s sincere, forboth their sakes.

          1. Healing,
            I get it. My mind goes there just like yours does.
            I’ve been burned again recently, but with different tactics. It’s so frustrating and exhausting.
            I’m not ruling out never having a relationship again, but now I’m so wary I just don’t even have the desire or energy to try again.

  3. Healing,

    Seems he wants to drag her into his healing program. I agree, it does seem odd. Having a porn addiction would mean he’s computer savvy.

    1. I wasn’t sure so I thought I’d ask. He told her he wants to ask if he can so he doesn’t infringe on her healing support group so to speak. I wasn’t sure what I should tell her of course you want all people to get help, but then there’s boundaries.

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