Regret is an awful feeling we all experience at times in our lives. We look back at things we have done and realize that we could have been a better parent, a better mate, a better person. We are haunted by the thoughts of hurting someone we love, neglecting someone who deserved our attention, or not appreciating someone that is now gone. Sometimes our past behavior has sent our life on a downward spiral and the momentum of the fall seems greater than we can deal with.
Regrets also come from things we haven’t done. Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable (Sydney J. Harris, Sam Horn's Tongue Fu). We put off education for a higher paying job now, we keep saying we need to exercise but our bodies are now so out of shape it seems hopeless to change now, or we married someone too quickly to anesthetize the pain of loneliness and now wonder how we got into this mess.
Regrets come from many sources and it causes us to wonder whether it is possible to live without regret?
We cannot totally avoid regret since we are not perfect people we will make mistakes that we regret. However, what you do next determines whether your regret become disabling or corrective in your life.
What Can We Do With Regret?
When we look at our regrets we respond in either of two basic directions. One direction will lead to a place without hope. Someone once said, "A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams." In this direction regrets will eat away at hopes and dreams, and hope is the antidote to regret. The first step in the hopeless direction is made with the decision to hide what we have done. When we hide our mistakes the world may not know what we have done, but we do. That knowledge will slowly but certainly create a sense of self-loathing and depression will begin to take control of your.
The alternative direction is toward embracing regret by acknowledging it honestly and taking action to counter what has been done. Unlike the other decision we take responsibility for our behavior and decisions. When we take responsibility for our actions we start a process, a change of life style, a life style of living without regrets.
There are basically three steps to living without regret. First, we take responsibility for our lives which involves being honest about what we have done, or not done, and how it has affected others. Being responsible produces hope and hope is the antidote to regret. Second, we need to take steps to correct our wrongs we have done. This may involve making amends to people we have hurt or disappointed, or it may involve accepting certain consequences without blaming others.
Third, we need to make life-style changes to prevent further regret producing behavior. Usually life-style changes cannot be done alone. Whether you attend a support group, a church small group, or become accountable to your whole family, life-style changes do not happen in a vacuum. So find a support group, or a church small group where you can learn to grow into the person you want to become, where you can live accountable to others, and experience the encouraging support of others, and where hope and faith replace regret.
Larry McElvain, Founder, Discovery Counseling Center
November 2, 2020