Brief reflections on the nature and resolution of regret
Regret is a painful reminder of the past that may help guide you in the present.
Regret, guilt and anguish may ultimately be destructive. Regret can become an obsession that colours other (even all) aspects of your life and can prevent you from functioning “normally”. In extreme cases, it can lead to despair and depression, altering your view of life so it is difficult to keep things in proportion or maintain a balanced perspective. Feelings of responsibility and guilt may become overwhelming and prevent you from seeing positive aspects of your character and life.
Regret, however, is not all bad. It suggests intelligence and sensitivity. You may have done, said or felt something you regret, but the very fact you regret it suggests recognition of and a desire to embrace certain values and principles. Mistakes may have been made, but that does not make you worthless, nor does it invalidate positive actions and decisions you have taken in the past and may take in the future. If you feel bad, it is probably because you are good, and you need to recognise that.
To state the obvious, we cannot change the past. If we feel regret, the most we can aspire to is redemption in the form of our future actions. If we learn from our mistakes and channel our feelings of regret into a positive way forward, or learn to see that what we regret may be just one part of a bigger and brighter picture, or even recognise the positive influence our regret may already have had on our conduct, we may appease some of our guilt. Self-forgiveness may not be possible – perhaps we need pain and remorse to help us evolve and to prod us into acts of compassion and understanding - but it may be possible to live with our remorse if we recognise our failures (but also our successes) and set about doing our best in the future.
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