Guilt: knowing that you have committed some type of wrongdoing.
Guilt is usually not enough to make people change. This change would require them to not only rectify their transgression(s), but to never do it again. I am well aware of how this works with sexual and physical abusers. Some of them may feel bad for a while, but they go back to committing their crimes when that state passes, or when they suppress it with some type of substance/habitual behavior.
The Cycle Of Abuse Theory.
There are two aspects to this theory: firstly, the repetition of abuse from one generation to the next; secondly, the mental/behavioral state of abusers which purports to explain why they keep abusing. You may learn more about the latter, here. As you can see at that link, there are many different “Cycle of Abuse” wheels that demonstrate the process by which these people repeat their behavior. They do not all contain the guilt/remorse/apologetic aspect of it, probably because this does not apply to all abusers. Many – if not most – of them, do not regret what they have done, or they only pretend to feel bad so that they may be ‘forgiven’.
If Guilt, Per Se, Does Not Change People, Then What Is The Point Of It?
The admission of wrongdoing is not enough: action must be taken to demonstrate that the guilt led to some type of positive transformation. In other words, the acknowledgement of wrongdoing is only the catalyst for change, it is not the change itself.
In my experience, people rarely change their ways. This is because real transformation is painful: people go to great lengths to avoid pain. So, even though they may feel bad for a little while, they go right back to doing the same old, same old. Believe them when they show you who they are the very first time they reveal their true selves.