No sense in regretting, yesterday is over, isn’t it?
Look up regret in the dictionary. It might be the saddest word ever. To feel sorrow or remorse for an act, fault, disappointment; to think of with a sense of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction. The words that describe regret are enough to make me anxious and guilty just looking at them. It’s no wonder I have always struggled with this emotion. Is it valuable to regret? Does it teach us a lesson? Or is it a time waster, being we can’t take back yesterday?
Shortly after my ex-husband moved out, I started a relationship with a friend of a friend. I was nowhere near ready to give another human a bit of myself. Part of me I think realized that, and another part didn’t want to go through life alone. There were several points through our two years together where I second guessed if this was the right person for me. Despite that, when he asked me to marry him, I said yes. And immediately thought NO. But I couldn’t say it out loud and was afraid of hurting someone. Within a few months, my gut was screaming. I realized I was hurting this person more by staying in the relationship and I ended it. He did nothing wrong, it simply was not right.
If I was a person that valued regret, this situation would have lended me the perfect opportunity to condemn myself over how stupid I was to jump so quickly into something I so clearly was not ready for. I could have mournfully moved forward, but not really, second guessing myself every step of the way. Though I was sad and felt compassion for the other person in this situation, regretting the relationship would have taken away everything I had learned and gained along the way. I cannot even begin to describe the insight I carried with me from that, into every relationship really. The knowledge I took away about myself is worth every uncomfortable emotion I felt during that time.
I think in some circumstances people feel like regret will demonstrate they are remorseful for a choice they are less than proud of. We cannot rewind our actions, if you are disappointed in how your actions affected another, regret is the least of your worries. That emotion is about you and not about SHOWING someone you are truly sorry. So, do not let regret precede an apology, to another or even to yourself. We are imperfect humans after all and deserving of forgiveness.
People also regret choices UNMADE. You may regret an opportunity you did not take, a chance you missed. There are certainly times in my life I could look back on with thoughts of, “I should have.” But my heart goes from “what if” to “what would I have missed” instead. You could have taken that job opportunity and ran with it, but maybe then you never would have met your significant other at the job you ended up taking. You could have gone on that trip your girlfriends took together, but maybe you would have gotten into a horrible accident on the way to the airport. You cannot know, but those choices unmade were not meant for you, never regret them.
So how do we cope with regret or shift our focus from regret to recognition? First, remember regret can be functional. Regret is our brain’s way of telling us, whoa, maybe you need to look at the choice you just made and learn a lesson. This can help you avoid negative consequences down the road. Next, cut your regret off when it stops providing function. If there is nothing you can do about a situation but ruminate and blame yourself, it’s time to let it go. Also cut yourself some slack, maybe you made a decision under pressure, while you were in a stressful place, with limited resources. See above, you are not perfect. Last, reassess your journey. Is this thing you are regretting a part of a bigger lesson and plan for you? Undoubtedly yes, even if it hasn’t become apparent yet.
Whatever you do, don’t let regret be the roadblock that holds you back from something amazing. Take your one chance at this life, make mistakes, learn, grow, and move on. There are no regrets in this life, just lessons.