On Regrets

Most of us spend too much time in the past. Perhaps we’re unhappy with our present and so escape to the “Glory Days” for comfort. Perhaps we’re wracked with guilt over impulsive acts. Perhaps we are angry over how certain decisions turned out. Perhaps we’re simply left wondering what would have happened if we’d gone left instead of right.

Underlying regrets can be several spiritual issues of concern. One can be that we haven’t forgiven ourselves for something. The regret represents ongoing punishment. Other regrets may involve a judgment which invokes the famous Dr. Phil phrase “What were you thinking?”

We are prone to judge ourselves after the fact when in reality decisions are best on data available at the time. I remember when I was at ROTC summer camp in Pennsylvania. I was miserable and clearly did not like being a soldier. One day I sat on my bunk and another soldier looked at me and said “Patterson! Why are you here?” All I could say in response was “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Sometimes that’s the best we can do to explain different choices.

At a deeper level, my lack of forgiveness of myself may reflect an inability to accept the fact that I am powerless over the past. This may seem obvious to you but in fact many of us spend hours reanalyzing the past, somehow in the hopes that our analysis when change our view about the past. When I expend energy trying to forget about something, am I not trying to control the past?

I suppose that wondering about how my life would have turned out had I attended seminary for the Holy Cross priests or not quit basketball in my sophomore year is harmless. It becomes destructive when I add on “You’re stupid” or “You should have known better!”

This song from Working captures our tendency to regret:

Reflections: How much have you struggled with regrets? About what?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
This entry was posted in psychology, spirituality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to On Regrets

  1. Here I think is another both/and. On the one hand, I think it is good to have regrets, especially in the second half of life. That is prime time to become accountable, and make amends to people we have harmed either in person or by journaling or writing a letter we won’t send. Cleaning up old stuff with people is absolutely essential if we are committed to living consciously. And…what’s also true is that becoming obsessed with regrets is another trick of the ego (the NOT divine Self) to get us pre-occupied with ourselves. It may LOOK like exactly the opposite, and we think “Oh it’s because I’m so not focused on me that I have these regrets,” but like I said, it’s a trick. From my perspective, I say, make amends, learn from the past, and then let go of it.

  2. Margie says:

    I continue to struggle with my life’s regrets. I keeping asking God for forgiveness for things that I have done since I was a young girl. There are times that I feel good about God’s forgiveness and than there are times that I wonder if He has really forgiven me. I pray that He has. Now I must continue to work at forgiving myself…..Work in Progress
    Margie S

  3. tom cunningham says:

    yuo quit basketball for the stage — good move — i quit debate for baseball — another good move ( ii still had slivinski )

Leave a Reply