But let’s face facts here: anyone who tells you they don’t have regrets is lying through their teeth, psychotic, or doesn’t understand the question. We all have regrets, even if we don’t admit to them in public. Sometimes they are things you screwed up and wish you had done better, but for many it’s those occasions where you should have acted or said something, but your inner police system stopped you – and that seems to happen on a daily basis!
Strangely, our greatest enemy here is fear of failure: we want so badly to avoid a social faux pas that we often stumble into far worse situations with all the more propensity for ridicule and public humiliation.
But regrets are not simply a matter of embarrassment – we often regret things we have done that hurt someone we care for, which on occasions can cause irreparable damage to relationships. As the old song says, “you always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.” Why should that be? It’s like a hell-bent self-destructive urge to ruin everything good you have in your life, at times. Hurl yourself off a cliff? No, hurt someone near and dear to you, it’s easier if no less painful…
Anyway, on to the top 5 regrets people have on their deathbeds, courtesy of thenextweb.com:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
In other words, wish that you had used your time more wisely by focusing on the things that matter – people close to you. Life is, as they say, waaaaaaaaaay too short not to enjoy while you have the chance, in the company of those who will enrich and share those memorable experiences. Leave it too late and you may find those options are no longer available for whatever reason – illness, money, it doesn’t matter. Carpe diem, wear your heart on your sleeve and have the courage of your convictions!
Granted that prevention is always better than cure, but since that may not always be an option (eg. we lack time machines that enable us to go back and rewrite history more to our liking), Wikihow offers advice on how to deal with regrets, thus:
- Determine what your regret really is. Do you regret something you did or something you didn’t do? Something someone else did or did not do? A circumstance beyond your control? It is important to step back from the feelings of regret and identify exactly what the regret is.
- Ask for forgiveness and make amends. Apologize for any harm you may have caused others, it does not kill to ask for forgiveness so give it a go! Forgive yourself. Forgiving others will make you happier. Be compassionate toward everyone involved including yourself.
- Accept the circumstances. Avoid blaming others but rather take responsibility for anything that you could have better handled.
- Deal with toxic relationships. Sometimes other people cause us to do things that leave us with serious regrets. Do you have a toxic relationship that needs to be addressed or severed?
- Grieve for your regrets. When we feel regret, we re-live guilt, sadness or anger over and over again. Allowing yourself to experience these feelings fully with the intention of moving forward can help you stop revisiting them.
- Recognize what you have learned or gained. When you find yourself thinking of the regret, turn your thoughts to the things you have learned and the opportunities that are now yours – even if they are not what you would have preferred. There is always a lesson even in pain and sadness. Look for the lesson and focus on it instead of what might have been.
Write out a plan or agreement for yourself that identifies how you could avoid having this sort of regret in the future.
And while we’re about it, have some handy tips too:
- Writing about your regrets, feelings, and frustrations can help understand why you did what you did and how you can learn from your mistakes.
- Talking to a trusted friend or family member can also help you identify fallacies in your thinking and give you the opportunity to sort through your feelings instead of merely experiencing them inside yourself.
- Visualize yourself acting and doing things as you move forward and leave your regrets behind.
- Seek out support groups or a counselor in order to discover how you can get relief from regret and guilt.
- Keep your situation in perspective. Remember that anything you’ve done is totally forgivable, even though it may seem unforgivable to you.
- Take comfort in knowing that we’ve all made really huge mistakes! You’re not alone. If you only knew all the skeletons in people’s closets, you’d know that we all do things we seriously regret at times. But, this too will pass (as they say).
- Should all else fail and leave you lacking the will to attempt anything ever again, just leave everything behind. Make every day a new beginning of your life. Your focus from now on shapes your life into what you want it to become.
- Whatever your past mistakes are, they can be redeemed and used for good if you are truly sorry. The mistakes you made can be used as teaching tools, to prevent others from making the same bad choices and getting into the same trouble you did. If you’re truly changing you can work with teens and be a mentor. Sharing your story with others, with the goal of teaching, can be very healing. The rough things you went through, even if they were your fault, can even help others who have already made mistakes they regret, because you can be a friend to them which will understand how they feel and not judge them.
I like the analogy with mourning, since we do have to reach a point where the regretting ends, we draw a line and move on. Look forward positively, not back, painfully. Regrets have a function, but they should not sit on our shoulders like vultures, nagging at us and disrupting our attempts to live life with purpose and ambition. Pay too much attention to the past and you fail to enjoy the present, much less plan for the future!!
So I can’t guarantee my inner system of morality will not apply regrets to me, but I will do my damnedest not to let them squat on my life, as Larkin famously said of that toad, work. But are we in control of our regrets, or are they controlling us? I will leave you with that thought…