The Power of Regret

When did having regrets become such a bad thing? I frequently hear people referring to unfortunate decisions they have made, and referencing the fact that they don’t regret what they have done almost with a sense of pride, or others subscribing to a philosophy of living without regret. I decided to spend some time thinking about why I inwardly cringe when I hear such things… after all, I certainly never desire for anyone to make decisions they will later regret. Nor do I want people to be so overcome with grief and remorse over their choices that it keeps them from living healthy lives. I think we all attempt to live without making decisions that we end up regretting, but the simple fact is, we DO make mistakes regardless of our good intentions, and we constantly do things that end up negatively affecting ourselves and others.

It is at these times that I think it is productive and healthy for us to experience regret over the less than stellar decisions that we have made, and the consequences they have led to. When we brush over a time of reflecting on our choices by trying to avoid the unpleasant sensation of regret, we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow through the pain that often comes with honest introspection. It is through the process of reflecting on our choices (particularly our destructive choices) that our private motivations and desires can be laid bare, and we come face to face with who we are. This is a humbling process, but humility helps us to maintain a realistic view of ourselves and others as flawed individuals, which in turn helps us to be more gracious in response to others’ poor choices.

The next time someone confides in you about a decision made that they feel badly about, don’t be too quick to bring comfort before they have the opportunity to feel and process the natural reactions of guilt and remorse. I believe that I have grown in some way through most of the mistakes that I have made, and even if I had a chance I probably would not change them; yet I can honestly say that I still wish I could have learned those lessons differently. So I try to remember this as I face the daily challenges of life, to at least avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly. This I have learned through the power of allowing myself to regret.

Jayna Pyke, MA, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor

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