We live in a world where sayings and quotes become mantras with meaning. “Live life with no regrets.” One of the more popular expressions, and even more so these days in a time that embraces growth and spirituality. It sounds great, doesn’t it? It rolls off the tongue so easily and if you say it to another person, he/she will probably respond with something like, “Right on!” For some reason, that quote, in particular, has always rubbed me the wrong way. Sure it sounds great in theory, but I don’t think it has much validity, and even more so, it misses the entire gift of hindsight.
In Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong, Brené talks about the value of Regret. She says, “Regret is a fair, but tough teacher.” I couldn’t agree with her statement more! So let’s break down what regret is.
Have you ever done something in your life that when you reflect on it, you cringe, find yourself wanting to avoid thinking about, justifying your behavior, blaming others, or making excuses? What is that about? Maybe you are saying to yourself, “We all do that from time to time.” Maybe we do, but we are missing the gift of those icky feelings.
The things we avoid looking at and acknowledging are EXACTLY what we need to see in order to grow, learn and evolve. Regret is a feeling of sadness, remorse, disappointment, or guilt over something that has happened in the past. The thing that gets in the way and stops us from learning from our past is the SHAME we hold when we look back. That shame feels like tar. It is sticky, thick, and hard to get off. Some of us spend our entire lives with it stuck to us, never getting the relief of cleaning it off, and feeling refreshed and renewed. What an awful way to live! I know from first-hand experience how debilitating it is to live with shame. One of the most powerful and life-changing experiences I have had has been healing my shame. In doing so, it allowed me to contemplate on my life, view my behaviors and consider the impact to myself as well as others.
When I did the work of sitting with my feelings of regret and exploring all of the different choices I felt regret around, it opened up space for me to experience new feelings and develop insight. Most importantly, I was able to take RESPONSIBILITY for my life. When we take responsibility for our actions, we are calling our personal power back to ourselves. We are no longer victims in our lives. It is truly empowering! The more I allowed myself to feel regret, I also felt compassion grow within me. I had compassion for myself, as well as the other people who were involved.
What grew from the exploration was a desire to do things differently in the present moment. Regret is TRANSFORMATIVE! It changes our view and way of being. It takes us out of the darkness and brings us into the light. Shame does not do that for us. Shame holds us back and stops us from growing and changing. That is one of the many reasons we need to heal our shame – it blocks the light out. You see, it is not feelings of regret we avoid, it is the shame we feel when we look back. Guilt is the experience of recognizing we have done something wrong, shame is feeling like we are wrong. It is the difference between the sin and the sinner.
I encourage you to start opening up your life to look at the things you have feelings of regret around. Consider them precious gifts, gemstones, that are opportunities for personal growth. Regret is the value of hindsight – we don’t look back when things turned out well – there is no need to. So when you find yourself feeling regret, turn towards it and ask yourself questions. Get curious about the situation, and explore. Look for the lessons, journal about your feelings, and consider what you want to do differently NOW. The powerful impact is the opportunity we have to practice forgiveness while doing our work. If you feel stuck, it is
helpful to work with a skilled therapist who can support you, help you to see things from different perspectives, offer feedback, and assist you in making changes today!