Regret is an emotion we experience as a result of an action we have taken. Specifically, we wish we hadn’t taken that action, as it led to hurt: your own or that of someone else. The action may have cost you emotionally or led to some unintended consequence or punishment. Basically, you did something, and something bad happened to you or someone else as a result. The feelings of sorrow, guilt, anger, and hurt are your mind’s reaction: regret.
Regret can be a sign that you are an emotionally healthy person (someone who CAN feel bad for their actions—unlike sociopaths, who don’t truly feel bad). However, if regret builds up too much, it can stop you from growing as a person. Or, it can impact your life in truly detrimental ways.
As an example, I’ll use the character Naylor from At Any Cost, one of the short stories in the Different, Not Damaged collection. Naylor carries around an overwhelming burden of regret as a result of his actions: he abandoned his friends on the night the Hunter of Voramis massacred the Bloody Hand (in Blade of the Destroyer). Even though he fled out of a desire to survive, he labors under the guilt of knowing that his friends died and he is the only one to live—also known as “Survivor’s Guilt“. Because of that guilt, he cannot lead a happy life, and he is willing to sacrifice everything in order to be free of the burden.
Regret can be a burden that follows us around every day, and it can weigh us down so much that it seems we’ll never get out from beneath it. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are ways to deal with regret—according to an article on Psychology Today, it actually comes down to three simple attitude adjustments:
- Use it as a chance to learn and grow. Instead of letting the regret weigh you down, use those feelings to help you learn from your mistakes. You did something wrong, so what can you do to ensure you don’t take that same “wrong” action again in the future? Regret is the signal you’re paying attention—now it’s time to take steps to prevent it again instead of wallowing in the mire.
- Look at the “what ifs”. What if the small consequence or outcome was really a BIG one? What if more people got hurt? What if the action had led to irreparable damage? By thinking about the what ifs, you’ll realize that the action you regret really isn’t as big as it could have been. That doesn’t absolve you, but it does help you to be grateful that things weren’t as bad as they might have been.
- Be realistic about fault. How much of the situation was actually your fault? Sure, you may have taken the first step that led down a bad path, but many of the things that happened had to be out of your control. Understand your part in the regrettable situation, but learn to only accept as much guilt or blame as you are responsible for.
Regret can be a useful emotional catalyst to help you learn from your mistakes, but don’t let it weigh you down so much you are unable to move on!