Does regret deserve another chance?
What is it about regret?
Regret has quite the reputation. Dictionaries shove regret in with remorse, apology and disappointment. For years I accepted this connotation and have been regret avoidant, determined to live without regrets. Lately, I reconsidered my regret aversion.
How many flavours does regret come in?
Even when I meant no harm I’ve said stupid and done dumb. I didn’t always realize it right away. It sometimes took me years to understand – slap forehead with palm. And then I’d regret the stupid and dumb stuff and vow to be better.
How did regret get marinated in one negative sauce when regret grows in varied soil? In regret’s favour, it motivates reassessment, curiosity and determination.
At least two types of regrets are teachers.
The ‘what if’ regret poses questions without answers
What if X had happened instead of Y? What if I’d stayed at my great, secure job with opportunities for promotion instead of risking a career change? It sure makes me aware of my privilege in having life choices.
‘What if’ regret is often imposed without choice. Helen, the protagonist in Sliding Doors lived two time lines. In the original the train door shut in her face. She got the next train home and her life unfolded. Then, the scene replayed. Helen yanked open the train door, got home to find her partner’s infidelity and her life shattered. Her two parallel lives continued their different trajectories until her futures converged.
Would I wind up in the same place whatever I decide?
It’s comforting to believe such convergence happens. Convergence isn’t my experience. My present life depended on specific decisions. At each ‘what if’ bifurcation point my decision meant irrevocable life changes.
That’s the blessing buried in the ‘what if’ regret. No matter where I ended, I like to believe I’d have adapted because the question for me isn’t how good did my life turn out. The question I’ve spent my life answering is: how resilient am I no matter what happened?
‘How could’ regret looks inward to prevent repeating mistakes
How could I have been so [fill in the blank]. Helen #2, who caught the train, couldn’t believe she’d been so [stupid, blind, in love, misled – pick a flaw] to miss the signs her partner was unfaithful. Helen #2 adapted to her changed circumstances. Helen #1, who missed the train, didn’t change anything and her infantile cheating partner held her back.
The blessing in the ‘how could’ lesson is the growth opportunity.
Do regrets deserve rehabilitation?
Although I began on a challenging quest to live without regret, I now ‘regret’ that.
What would it be like to live without regrets? Well, I’d lose valuable lessons. Making mistakes, hurting others, and disappointing myself is inevitable. Regret is born in understanding rather than being oblivious. So, like the lovely Edith Piaf: Non, je ne regrette rien, No, I regret nothing.
Regret offers the chance to fix hurt feelings or mistakes
My late mother and I regretted our relationship wasn’t closer. A lot of issues we worked out. In the seven years since she died our relationship keeps improving. Since she died she’s been my silent partner, and I’ve written some of our conflicts out of existence in my (still) unpublished novel.
My conclusion: it’s never too late to fix a relationship or hurt feeling. The other person will deal with his or her stuff, and if there’s anything I regret, it motivates me to work on mine.
What regrets are you holding on to that could be turned into teachers?