‘What can I do about regret?’ is a common presenting issue in counselling. Suffering regret is one of the most potent threats to our peace and happiness. Regret has great power to keep us painfully trapped in the past. It can prevents us from enjoying and embracing the present. This then often leads to further regrets.
Decision making is often paralysed by regrets. We become fearful of ‘making another bad decision.’ We regret lost opportunities. We regret not being true to ourselves. Going along with what other people demand or expect. Most people have some level of experience with regret. This ranges from mildly disturbing to life crippling.
Healing the suffering of regret is one of the most challenging areas to resolve. We can be tormented by ‘if only.’ If only I’d made a different choice. What if I’d gone through a different ‘sliding door’? What is done cannot be undone, so we feel powerless to resolve the regret. Although resolution cannot be engineered from the past, it can be resolved.
What we do have the power to do, is to change how we allow the regret to impact us now and in the future.
Healing work usually encompasses several processes and will often address the following areas:
- the process of 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. Relationships can frequently be healed. Friendships can be restored. Career, work, and lifestyle decisions can always be changed.
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.
- Understand our needs we can better take care of these needs.
- As we clearly recognise and understand unhelpful habits and patterns, we can then change these.
- Relationships can be protected through the powerful combination of awareness, skills and attitudes. This applies to all the relationships in our lives from partners and children to friends and colleagues.
- When we understand our fears and how they operate, we can learn how to reduce the power and negative impact of these fears.
- We can embrace mindfulness as a daily practice.
- We can learn to respond rather than to automatically react to events and people.
What Can I Do About Regret: Skills to Avoid Regret
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. We are constantly making decisions and choices. It is these decisions and choices which shape our lives and create our present and future experiences and opportunities.
Emotional intelligence skills encompass a range of life and relationship enhancing skills. Included are recognising and understanding various emotions. Learning how to release feelings. And learning how to respond to other peoples’ 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 in our lives. How well conflict is managed will either take us into the suffering of regret or transmute the conflict into something of value. These skills help 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. It is also common in 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 set us up for potential regrets, 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. Commit to this decision. Be willing to do what it takes to resource yourself.