I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done. –Lucille Ball

What is regret?

Regret is an all consuming often painful emotion connected to a belief that a past event should not have happened or should have happened differently.  Regret is often rooted in anxiety, disappointment, guilt, remorse, contrition, and depression.  It is often connected to thoughts such as, “I wish I never did this,” “I should have known better,” “life would be so much better if this was done differently.”  People impacted by regret often have less confidence when making future decisions, have reduced self-esteem, and tend to avoid situations that remind them of their regret.

How does regret impact us?

  • Individuals can experience depressed moods and lower life satisfaction
  • Anxiety can increase especially when focused on the “what ifs” of a situation
  • Individuals feels less confident and a lower sense of self-esteem
  • People may avoid situations that might contribute to future feelings of regret
  • One can feel unmotivated and helpless
  • Individuals can turn to distractions such as substance use

Living with regret

Recognizing the cycle of regret, being trapped by rigid and inflexible thinking, helps us see how we are blaming ourselves unnecessarily.  We often miss the step of self-compassion when assessing past behaviour.  When looking logically at the past, we can recognize our behaviour in the greater context.  If we take time to look at why we took the path we did, we often realize that we did not have the information that we have today.  If today’s self was making the decision, it would look quite different than the decision made by our past self.

How can we change our thinking?  My removing the certainties, absolutes, or “should statements” (I should have done this, I absolutely did the wrong thing) we can reduce the toxicity of regret.  Rather we can ask ourselves questions, such as: I wonder why I chose this path?  What was I thinking at the time?

When we can learn to accept our past actions, we begin to recognize a wider context to our actions, and understand that the values and ideas we had in the past are different than those we have today.  This allows for self-compassion and healing of the regret and guilty feelings. 

How is regret useful?

Regret can help us recognize that we need to learn from our past in order to change our future for the better.  Healing from regret also makes us stronger and more confident individuals.  Learning from regret also contributes to our being better teachers and role models for others. Regret helps us to appreciate what we have in the present and learn how to take the best steps into the future.

If you want to discuss your regret with a therapist, contact one of us today for a free consultation.

Written by Kathryn Atkinson