Friday, 1 April 2011

Regret Can Be A Good Thing

"No Regrets"  How many times have you heard this?  I have heard it a lot lately and it bugs me.  I don't think that you should spend your life dwelling in your regrets.  I do think that regret (and remorse, and guilt) have a purpose and that if you try to just go on with your life, ignoring the purpose of the feeling then you will spend your life mired in the muck.

The feeling of regret has purpose, to act as a warning "don't repeat your mistakes", and to make amends for your mistake.  Often making amends will help alleviate the bad feeling of regret.  There is a wide range of things that we humans are capable of achieving and there is a wide range of harm that we humans are capable of perpetrating.  The regret should relate to the action that was done, there should be no blanket statement that there are no regrets (unless you live in some magical world where you can wave your fairy wand and change/fix everything).  Would you tell a murderer that they should not feel regret?  I doubt it.  Would you tell someone who dropped out of college that they should not feel regret?  Probably.

I don't think that everything in your life that doesn't turn out perfect, should be regretted.  I have had some really terrible hair-cuts, I didn't dwell in regret, I just figured out how to deal with them - hats, head-bands, gel, etc.

I regret being bitchy and mean when I was in high school.  I don't carry it around like a ball and chain, I can't undo what was done.  I did recognize how I behaved, I learned that it was a reaction to my own pain, and I stopped being that way and hurting people.

I regret not standing up for myself in my marriage.  There were times that I tried, but I gave up, and things got worse.  I don't believe that the outcome would have necessarily been any different, but I do believe that I would feel better about myself.  I have been standing up for myself a lot more lately and calling mean/bad behavior when it occurs.  I believe that in my next relationship I will be stronger and that may not work for the man, but since I am the only me I have, I need to take care of me.

This is my best example of regret being a good thing.  My Dad is an alcoholic and he was drunk for my childhood and my teen years.  He loved me, and I saw him on a regular basis, this did not make him a good dad.  He caused a lot of pain for a lot of people, people that he loved and who loved him back.  The realization of the pain he caused - the regret - is part of what helped him become sober and emotionally healthy.  He no longer causes pain, in fact he now has a career helping addicted youths in the criminal system.  He is a loving and supportive father, husband, and friend.  Of course he wasn't able to undo the past, he wasn't able to give me or my brother the childhood that we wanted, but he has made amends, and now we have real relationships.  That is what regret is for, it is about taking your mistakes and learning from them and using them for good.

I am suspicious of people who think that they can go through life and not have any regrets. It is possible that someone could live their entire life and never hurt another person and therefore not have a need to regret their actions, but I have never met someone who was so perfect.  I know that I am not that perfect, I have done things that I have regretted and I have tried to learn, apologize and make amends where I could.  I guess life would be easier if you didn't regret anything that you did, but it would also be a lot more selfish.

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