Friday, January 18, 2019

Having Regrets and Our Humanity


Why are people so afraid to admit they have regrets in their lives? The word has always had a very bad rap, with people saying it's wasted time and effort. 'I don't have time for regrets; they're counterproductive', is what is commonly declared.

But really, if we're all being honest with ourselves, is there anyone on this planet without a single regret? More importantly, is regretting really all that bad? Some of you are probably thinking that this is odd timing on my part, given that this is a new year and it's all about a clean slate, a fresh start, and leaving the past behind. But this is also precisely why I thought about 'regrets'. I think you can't really go forward without intelligently looking back. And I say intelligently because looking back without much consciousness is worthless. 

To regret is to feel negatively about something from the past; to feel sorry that something happened, to wish it never did. It requires the capacity to perceive time and possess memory, the capacity for self-reflection, remorse, and the desire for self-actualization.

To have regrets is to acknowledge mistakes made and to allow yourself to feel bad about them. It is our recognition of dreams or hopes unfulfilled, ideals unrealized. 

In other words, having regrets makes us wholly human.

Regrets are useful because they highlight for me certain tendencies I have, behavioral and psychological inclinations I possess, that I can still CHOOSE to change. Looking back at painful things and wishing they turned out differently is normal and acceptable, as long as you don't go through self-flagellation and turn your experience of pain into suffering. You can have regrets and still believe that even painful things happen for a reason and that there are blessings to be found behind failures.

I regret making certain decisions. I recognize that there were times I decided in haste even if everything in my being told me to step back and take my time.

I regret NOT making certain decisions. These were times when I simply surrendered my power to someone else, letting them make choices that would bring a tsunami of consequences on my life. Or worse, letting 'fate' decide for me, stripping myself willingly of all agency, as I simultaneously lied to myself by saying that what I did or wanted did not matter because 'Life' has its own plans for me. Trust me when I say that this is the kind of regret that cuts most deeply.

The decisions themselves cannot be undone, but how I live the consequences of those decisions is still completely up to me, and so are future countless decisions I am yet to make. 

Everyone is allowed to look back, as you should! Feel good about it, feel bad about, it does not matter. What matters is you know that the present is the only space where you have power, and that NOW is when you can try to make sure that tomorrow will not be filled with too many regrets. And if you realize that you do have many regrets, you need to know that the only way to move forward is to be kind to yourself. Only with kindness can you forgive, and a regretful self is one that is always begging for your forgiveness. 

Recognizing my mistakes and paying attention to the echoes of my regrets help me choose more wisely and more consciously. As such, instead of my regrets becoming prison walls meant to torture, they actually become gifts for transformation. When we begin to see our regrets as teachers—rather than a final verdict—then they become spaces for reflection, redirection, forgiveness, and gratitude. 

*This post was originally published in 2012, and was updated for today's publication.

1 comment:

  1. I just had the opposite of this conversation with a friend. And although our conversation is still valid for what her situation is, I never thought about regret from this perspective. Very thoughtful piece, Joy, you make good points.


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