Handling Feelings of Regret or Sorrow

Is regret worth the time and guilt we give it?

How about starting to think about personal regret with the phrases, “WHAT IF — — — -?”

Or, how different could my life have been “IF I HAD ONLY — — —?”

I’ve done this and came up with a few regrets. My list of answers to these questions includes accepting Paul Taylor’s invitation to join his newly formed dance troupe or if only I had not walked away from the opportunity offered to me by Bloomingdale’s. What if I had made a different choice of husband from my many marriage proposals?

These are some instances where my choices resulted in vastly different outcomes in my life. Therefore, they are opportunities for regret.

That is, if I allow them to cause me regret or remorse.

Even early in my adult life, I realized that I would have made the same choices again, given the same circumstances. I had no way of knowing what the future would bring if I chose the “other” option. Based on what I knew then, those decisions were the sum of my understanding of their components.

Would feeling regret later serve any valuable purpose for me? I think not. I made the best choice I could at that time and place.

Instead, these decisions allowed me to develop the courage to meet my life’s demands by accepting every result. I haven’t glossed over the painful consequences of some of my options, but I fully get my life, even the disasters.

Let’s look at the futility of guilt. Here are a few things to remember.

  1. There are no do-overs. If you hurt another person and feel guilty, you can attempt to assuage the situation with a new action, like an apology. If that doesn’t work, try being kind to yourself. You are a human, and you can forgive yourself.
  2. If you notice a pattern in your behavior, you may wish to examine the internal benefits you derive from doing the same thing repeatedly. This exposure is painful.

When my therapist suggested that I was responsible for my first husband’s behavior, I was angry. My training to accept whatever came my way during my growing-up years made me comfortably stuck in “the victim” mode. I preferred to feel everything he did was wrong, and I, the powerless loser. The question was, “What if I had not allowed his behavior to continue?” But, I was so afraid to speak up; I was the sufferer and felt, at least, that I was safe, as were my children.

Finally, after realizing that I didn’t have to lie in the bed I made for myself by choosing him for my husband and I had no success trying to alter the characteristics of our relationship, divorce was the only option.

Guilt followed me for a long time after that. I had taken my life, my husband’s life, and my children’s lives and tumbled us all upside-down. Too often, I felt sorry, as I caused pain to them and myself.

However, I never regretted my action. I knew that if I continued in this relationship, I would have had no chance for happiness. And my children would believe his behavior was acceptable. Standing up for myself required courage; I had none. But courage was in me, waiting to be born.

So, I’ve learned that feeling sorrow is not the same as feeling regret. To me, regret means wishing you had not acted in a certain way or done something you never wanted to do. Sorrow accepts loss or feeling an ache in your soul, all part of life’s challenges.

No one said it better than Joanne Greenberg in the title of her book, “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.”

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Lynn Zimmering

Well, I’ve done it — I’m ninety! I can hardly believe it myself and still writing. Here’s the deal; I’ll keep writing if you keep reading. Thanks.