Everyone has regrets. They are a fact of life. Life is filled with uncertainties and unpredictable events, and in the midst of those uncertainties and events we sometimes inadvertently screw something up. Shit happens! Here’s my question. If regrets are indeed a fact of life, then why do we work so hard at avoiding them? And should we avoid regrets?
Rather than avoiding regrets, I think there are times when it is necessary to camp in the place of regret at least temporarily. I would argue that camping in the place of regret can give clarity, focus, and direction regarding one’s motivations. In other words, regret often forces a person to look into his or her heart and examine certain attitudes, fears, and the manner by which s/he makes sense of the world.
If there is an emotion we should let go of as quickly as possible, then it is guilt. Guilt stems from intentionally violating an accepted norm. Guilt has a paralyzing effect and keeps a person trapped in his or her past. Guilt feeds addiction, pain, and dysfunction, and corrodes every positive thing in one’s life. When dealing with guilt, it is helpful to confront the past by owning up to the misdeed, and making an honest and earnest effort to change the behavior.
Conversely, regret is an emotion that grows out of an unintentional action. Regret has a way of showing us how something can be done differently both today and in the future. Knowing the difference between regret and guilt is paramount to living a balanced and fulfilled life – a life free from self-blame and shame. I get it. We hate having regrets. Dealing with regrets makes us look unfocused, irresolute, error-prone, and weak. And who does not love displaying his or her strengths at all times? We want to be seen as having it altogether.
We all wish we could get it right the first time. It is easy to look back at our past and see what we could have done better or differently. The reality is that no one gets it right the first time consistently. So, why not simply cut yourself some slack. It is perfectly fine to give yourself permission to pout and ‘regret.’ Really, it is.
We are developing beings through the lifespan and we get better with time. So, as it relates to regrets, no apologies are necessary.