What Can I Do About Regret?
A common presenting issue in counselling is ‘what can I do about regret?’ The suffering of regret is one of the most potent disturbances to our peace and happiness. Regret has great power to keep us painfully trapped in the past at the expense of enjoying and embracing our present.
Decision making is often paralysed by regrets which leave us fearful of ‘making another bad decision.’ Whether it was a decision to let a particular opportunity slip away, or to go along with what someone else wanted despite knowing it was not being true to ourselves, there are plenty of ways that regret can trip us up. Most people have some level of experience with regret, ranging in impact from mild to life crippling.
Healing the suffering of regret is one of the most challenging areas to resolve because we cannot go back and go through a different ‘sliding door’ or go back and make a different decision or choice. What is done is done, it is not surprising that we feel powerless to resolve regret.
What we do have the power to do is to change how the regret impacts us now and in the future.
Healing work usually encompasses several processes and will often address the following areas:
- how to let go
- the process of forgiveness (especially forgiving ourselves)
- compassion (for ourselves and others)
- shifting perspectives and interpretations
- releasing painful emotions – for example anger, shame and sadness often accompany regret
- taking action to ameliorate the consequences where possible
- resilience and personal power- including work on self-esteem and confidence
- resourcing with understanding, skills and strategies to avoid further regrets
Sometimes there is an opportunity to take action to improve the consequences of past decisions and behaviours, such as healing relationships, or reconnecting with friends, or changing jobs or careers, or relocating.
Where painful or distressing consequences cannot be changed, the focus becomes one of learning how to accept what is and move on. An important part of moving on is to equip ourselves with what we need in order to avoid further regret.
Avoiding Further Regret
It is possible to resource ourselves so that we can avoid setting ourselves up for regret.
Self Awareness and Understanding
Self awareness and understanding are integral to living a life free from regret. See Journaling for Self Awareness and Understanding. When we know what is most important to us (our top values) we can ensure our decisions and choices align with these values. When we know and understand our needs we can better take care of these needs. When we clearly recognise and understand our habits and patterns in our relationships then we can improve and safeguard those relationships whether it is with a partner, children or important others in our lives. When we understand our fears and how they operate we can learn how to reduce the power and negative impact of these fears.
Certain specific skills go a long way to protecting us from further regret.
Decision making skills earn a place at the top of the list as it is the decisions and choices we constantly make throughout every day that shape and create our present and future.
Emotional intelligence skills encompass a range of skills that relate to most effectively managing our own emotions and those of other people, from recognising and understanding various emotions to responding to emotions. See Manage Your Feelings.
Conflict management and resolution skills (including inner conflict) are also vitally important in minimizing the potential for regret. Conflict is an inevitable part of life. How we manage and resolve conflict in ourselves and with other people has great power to either take us into the suffering of regret or to avoid saying or doing what we may regret. See Conflict Resolution Strategies and What Causes Conflict.
Communication skills are the third skillset which plays a central role in whether or not we set ourselves up for regret. People often express regret at ‘not speaking up’ or not listening.
Frequently, couples and family members can save themselves the regret of a relationships’ demise through developing and improving communication skills. (It is hardly surprising that this is the most common reason for couples to seek counselling)
Taking Notice and Taking Action
All too often regret comes from either not taking notice or not taking action. Or not taking action sooner. This is a very common lament when a relationship ends, and also with health and well being issues. We torment ourselves with “if only” and have difficulty being compassionate with ourselves.
Fears, procrastination, self esteem, confidence, anxiety and the myriad factors that interfere with a life free from regret can all be effectively addressed.
The simple answer to the question “what can I do about regret?” is that there is a great deal that can be done. Skilful and effective counselling or therapy is very valuable, especially when you have been stuck for a long time.
The first step in avoiding further regrets is to make the decision to be pro-active in managing your present and your future and then commit to this decision.