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Healthy Regret

Do I have regrets? Yes. But most of them I am pleased about. I have come to consider regret as a healthy sign that your conscience is working. So, when I have made a mistake, and I feel regret, well, that is the way I ought to feel. That regret helps me to avoid repeating that mistake. That sense of regret is evidence that I want to be a good person. I also believe in a sense of ownership or self-responsibility. I have made it my habit at work to hold my hands up and say, “that was my fault”, and I know it has won a lot of respect that I can do that from both my seniors and the team who I manage. But I make sure that whilst I am ready to admit my mistake, I use it as an opportunity to move forward.

Of course when it comes to a few of my regrets, I do sincerely wish they had never ever happened. There have been a few experiences in my life that I wish it were possible to erase, because they and their consequences have tormented me. Some I still find too hard to write about. One that I have mentioned on this blog was becoming involved with Greg. I deeply regret that I allowed someone else to treat me like a toy. Oddly, I see some women aspiring to being treated like a toy. Perhaps when they have a nervous break down their partner will make a little more time for them than Greg did for me. I still find it hard to write about.

Je regrette profondément d’avoir cédé à la faiblesse. Greg m’a utilisé. Il m’a utilisé pour satisfaire sa propre convoitise. Greg ne se souciait pas de moi.

It’s easier in another language.

We are all learning, and we often do learn by taking the wrong turn, and need to change our course to get back on track. It actually worries me that some people seem to ignore their conscience, make it harden and callous, and don’t seem capable of feeling any kind of regrets over their actions. A certain police officer who has recently been given a whole-life sentence after his degraded acts perhaps epitomises that. Or that bloke who was arrested last week for a heinous crime he committed around thirty years ago – did you see him joking and making light of it?

Regret is something that we need….as a human race…to keep us veering towards positive qualities that make life more beautiful as we live, work and play together. There is a healthy side to regret that is like clearing weeds to allow beautiful flowers to grow.

Regrets can be healthy, remorse is a sign that your conscience is alive and kicking. I was watching an episode of a detective show starring Ben Miller (I have a bit of a crush on him) the a couple of weeks ago, and the lead character made a statement which totally registered with me. He said, “…our conscience is our foundation, once contaminated it can destroy everything.” For me the conscience is an essential compass that only fools dispense with.

However, there are a few regrets, often connected with traumatic events in our lives and perhaps not due to any fault of our own, that can haunt us in ways that are hard to make sense of. Learning to accept that in some complex cases, that while we may have made mistakes, much of the situation was not our fault, and therefore we should not punish ourselves in an unhealthy way is vital to our emotional health.

Despite this, I think for the most part the feeling of regret is a good thing. If we did not feel regret after we did something wrong….what would the state of this planet be? I want to keep learning from my mistakes, and I hope that we as a human family go on learning and become more beautiful.

24 replies on “Healthy Regret”

A touching and dramatic article.

Always remember this: you are intrinsically a good person. You do not need to prove this to the world.

Do not allow yourself to be seduced to the all too tempting notion that you made a mistake and suddenly in regret you place yourseld on display for the world to see how contrite and sorry you are.

I made a heinous mistake 29 years ago by marrying the wrong person for me. Try as I may I could not measure up to the type of man she wanted me to be.

Last January she abandoned me and caused me to become a jangle of broken and bruised emotions and regrets. My sin was that I believed the hype and insults hurled at me from a person suffering from bipolar disease.

It has taken me months of self re evaluation to accept the fact I am NOT to blame.

Try to adapt a new definition and acceptance of yourself. You have nothing to repent for. Remember that.

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Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with me GC. I feel so honoured to know more about the challenges you have faced. It must have been a very tough time for you, and I am so glad you are able to discern that you are not to blame.

Most areas of my own life, I am comfortable with admitting where I have made a mistake and need to learn from it and move on. It’s been my habit to admit my mistakes at work. I try to be always ready to admit my part in a misunderstanding between Ben and I. Where I have struggled is events in my life that were not my fault, they were accidents, but my involvement, my being in the wrong place at the wrong time, had the most awful consequences. Although deep down I know very well they are not my fault and I am not to blame, it is still tormenting to have that awareness that something devastating occurred and even if I had all the riches in all the world I could never buy back what was lost. That has been something I have had needed help to get my head around. Especially as they were events that happened when I was a child and as a child, nobody realized how traumatised I was by what had happened. The fact I had not had the help to work through my emotions caught up with me in my mid-twenties when I found myself slipping into deep depression and despair.

I am so glad for the support I received after that point. I do regret that during a time I was struggling with depression I became so vulnerable to the attention from Greg. I am also very grateful that Simon who I met in my late twenties was so balanced and understanding. I am also deeply grateful to Ben who got to know me as a friend and who spent years developing a friendship before he finally told me how he felt about me. Ben has brought an incredible stability to my life. He is kind, loyal, compassionate, positive, reasonable and logical. He is also very chilled and has an inner peace about him that has helped me to relax into myself, and to grow and flourish within. I have many other friends too who I ought to credit in helping me to thrive.

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So insightful, Jenna. As a “mental health professional”, I have often said in my mind, whilst counseling a patient…..”do as I say, not as I do”. I wasted 10 years on a relationship that was toxic and expensive (both emotionally and financially). I cannot get those years back, but hopefully have learned from them.
You clearly have learned as well.
Thank you for sharing this. I am sure others will either agree, or, even better….look inside and realize what you really mean and make those changes.

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Thank you Cliff. I do find the conscience really fascinating. I find it has helped me to slow down and listen to it, and sometimes it has been hard to do that. For example, when I did punish myself feeling too much blame for things that were not my fault, feeling like I did not deserve to be alive – there was a sharp pain inside. And at some stage I started to recognize that my conscience was stinging and telling me that was a lie, and that was a very harmful lie. When I finally learnt to become more balanced and discerning about mistakes, regrets, accidents, events beyond my ability to foresee or control I found it so much easier to enjoy my conscience. I saw it so much more as a protection, an inner voice that was helping me to find the right balance. I never want to be callous to my own mistakes. I want to be able to accept ownership for things that were my mistakes and learn from them and grow.

Now, with the support of mature and wise friends, I can look at other events in my life and see that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I was not to blame, neither do I deserve punishment. I can be at peace. It has not been easy, not at all, because sometimes you can be “innocent” and yet have been involved in something that has had terrible consequences. But now I understand more about the difference between deliberate intent….careless neglect….and innocently and obliviously wandering into a situation that was dangerous due to someone else neglecting their responsibilities.

I can still feel very sad about being part of an event which had tragic consequences, but after years of punishing myself for something that was never my fault, I was an innocent child who was allowed to play with other children unsupervised and another child ended up discovering something dangerous and another child ended up severely injured. Yes, the sadness will never leave me. But I can see that I was not culpable.

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Your post reminds me of the book “Midnight Library” by Matt Haig. It talks about how a girl lives her life full of regrets only to realise it much later that everyone in world have regrets, but that cannot be a reason to not live. One of my favourite books so far. Cheers!

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Thanks Aali. I agree everyone ought to have regrets at some stage, and learn from them, and grow and live. But being dominated by regrets to the point we never grow, and cannot really live is not healthy.

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You know I am a big believer in the connection between conscience and peace of mind, quality of sleep and all aspects of health.

I love it when my conscience gives a glow of “well done, good call, approval” – it is a very lovely glow of joy that energizes me. I don’t like it when my conscience says, “what did you do that for? were you being proud or selfish there?”…although that feeling of remorse tells me to go and do something about it, try to fix the mistake I just made.

The glow of a happy conscience is like a warm hug from a loving father saying, “well done, I am so proud of you for doing the right thing.”

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I love the positivity in this post, Jenna. Yes, we all have things we regret, that taught us some of life lessons, but turning it into a lesson, and being better after that, is a good thing! I have some colleagues who could learn from you how to admit their mistakes 😉
~ Marie xox

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I have so often seen at work that someone who is humble enough to admit it when they mistake is so much more trusted and respected.
People who blame others or justify their mistakes or try to cover their tracks and play innocent at work – well, people end up becoming wary of them. It is so much better to be upfront and move on.

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It’s interesting that you and I have the same thoughts on personal responsibility and being accountable for our actions, and yet feel differently regarding regret. That’s the wonderful thing about being human though, don’t you think?
For me, being stuck with regrets is unhelpful and unhealthy. I choose to see things for what they are, find the learning point- and make things right if possible- and move on.

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