A few months ago, I mourned the passing of a friend. With deep sadness, I realised that I could have spent more time with her when she was still physically alive. But the truth is, I didn’t. I was gripped by a deep sense of regret, about what I could have done differently and how much more I could have stretched myself.
In processing the plethora of emotions that were triggered by the event, I learned a few things that have since solidified who I am internally.
I found that when I expressed my grief, sadness and regrets to those close to me, their tendency was to present altternative perspectives about why I needn’t be beating myself up for what could have been. It was a normal response, one that came from kindness, to try to alleviate my pain. As much as I appreciated it, at some point I was clear that I did not want to be given another perspective to make me feel better about it. I was fine with my regret; I wanted to grow from it.
Whilst there are various ways for me to look at the situation, and many of them objectively-speaking could totally justify my behaviours and lack of attentiveness, that wasn’t the point. It wasn’t about whether I was right or wrong; I had an opportunity to grow and be better as a human being. I did not want to simply explain away my behaviours.
The greatest fulfilment for our soul is to experience growth. When I grow, I can feel a deep fulfilment at the level of my soul.
We don’t always need to adopt another perspective. It is okay to feel bad about our actions. We are meant to be a self-correcting species, learning and growing as part of our evolution. One of the problems of the positive thinking movement, law of attraction teachings, a superficial form of spirituality, and other what I call “replacement-type modalities” is that it programmes us to be too quick to reframe things. As a result, people are missing out on truly accessing their powers – precious powers that are misplaced in these places from which they are taught to stay away.
Regret can be healthy and empowering. It prompts us to examine our virtues, motivations and priorities. It is, however, not the same as guilt and self-beating – which generates darkness, resentment, projected anger, and is the stuff that makes you sick. The latter is self-defeating rather than self-growing.
How to Grow from Regret
Growing from regret is not based on some across-the-board moral code dictating what we should and shouldn’t do. Every situation is unique, based on your unique relationship with another person.
From a place of self-honesty, you will know where you stand in relation to yourself. You will know if you have acted short of your standards and integrity.
It is important to stay vulnerable in this knowing. Wthout vulnerability, there can be no growth.
From this place, you decide – firmly yet gently, and with humility – that you will act differently if you find yourself in a similar situation next time.
If reflecting on your actions you become guilt-laden, transform it to healthy regret. Guilt does not allow you to grow; it sucks you into a dark hole of self-flaggelation. Eventually you may spiral out of control, resulting in you hurting others, the opposite of what you want to achieve. Unresolved guilt can breed resentment and projected anger.
Sometimes, however, there is a need to express the energy of guilt before it can be transmuted. What is the story that generated guilt for you? Allow yourself to feel it, and let the waves move through you. In time, the intensity will lessen and you are left with a sense of regret. Unlike guilt, regret is something you can do something about. It prompts a new commitment, a strong determination to choose, behave and act differently next time if given a chance. These internal shifts, when made, will often be sufficient. Even if you will never be given another chance, your inner self-correction will yield transformation and growth.