by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, July 2013
KNOW REGRETS or NO REGRETS: the choice is yours.
Few people have NO regrets. We live our lives with the choices we made, and sometimes, as we review our past, we have regrets about such things as romance, family, education, career, finances, parenting, to name just some areas.
Regrets can motivate people to change their behavior which is a positive, but generally, the problem with regret occurs when the regrets interfere with our ability to be in the present, to be happy now, and when those regrets get in the way of our moving on with our lives.
Even when we carefully plan our decisions, we will likely have regrets. What could have been and what we can't know for sure will be in the back of our mind, especially if we are disappointed with the outcome of our final choices. But for those of us who let regrets paralyze our lives in the present, it's time to accept what is instead of what could have been, and start constructively dealing with regret.
Sometimes we feel guilty. We wallow in the past and beat ourselves up about "the road not taken" (which we feel would have been so much better than the road we took!). That may be so, but it is done - finished - and can only serve as a source of pain if not worked through. If we stay in the space of regret, we can feel we deserve to be punished or deserve to be unhappy, which leads us to stay stuck. When we stay stuck and we miss the chance to benefit and learn from what happened. And that prevents us moving forward.
Staying in a place of regret can have a negative impact on our health, particularly because we become more susceptible to colds, respiratory issues, and headaches. Ruminating over past regrets can also contribute to sleeplessness, difficulty focusing, anxiety, and depression - the last two particularly when we keep asking our self, "How could I be so stupid?" This is awful not just for our self but for everyone around us.
We can work through this if we make amends with our self in order to minimize the negative influence we let regrets have in our life. Not only will we be happier but so will our loved ones who suffer as a result of our painful self-punishing attitude and mood.
Interestingly, the SERENITY prayer is something that can help in the discussion of regrets. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." We can try to study and repeat this, but if we don't always make the wise choice or have the courage to do what we should, that doesn't mean we can't move forward with the rest of our lives. We cannot change the past. But we can accept it, learn from it, and commit to integrate the lessons we learn, and be the best person we can be as we move forward.
When we are filled with regret, we haven't adequately worked through the emotions associated with our past experiences. Having regrets, especially ones we keep secret or only indulge in when we are reviewing how awful a mess we made our life, is also a way of refusing to let go of something, and that's unhealthy for our emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being. We refuse to accept that we are human and that as humans we make mistakes or choices that we, in hindsight, are embarrassed by, ashamed of, or not proud of.
When we didn't make the best decision, it's important that we own up to it and start accepting responsibility for it. This is different from wallowing and beating ourselves up. How can we healthfully move on if we won't acknowledge the reality of the role we played? We can review and ask our self what our prime motivation was at the time and what our priorities should be if there is a next time. Accepting responsibility can be quite empowering, and it allows us to more realistically evaluate a future decision.
There is a lesson with every regret, and it's just waiting to be found. A big shift occurs when we view regret as a learning opportunity - it is the only way we will ever find some value in it - and there's always something to be taken away from our experiences. Next, if possible, we can take specific steps to mend our mistakes. For example, if we regret not telling someone how we felt about him or her before they passed away, we can make an effort to let those in our life now know how much we love and appreciate them. We may not be able to take something back, but we can use the lessons we have learned to help others.
While it's likely we won't escape regrets in life, we can learn how to make amends with our self in order to minimize the negative influence we allow let regrets have in our life. Not only will we be happier but so will our loved ones who suffer as a result of our suffering.