I read a very interesting article about regret last night. I read it again just now, and could strongly relate to many of the ideas described. I would only take issue with one line – where the phrase “saints or stupid” is used, I would replace it with “lacking empathy or self-awareness.”
Apart from that I couldn’t articulate the concepts better than the professionals quoted in the article, so I’ll just add a few comments from my own experience.
I don’t think I’m unique in having a complicated relationship with regret. Since my teens I’ve swung between times of being crippled by it so that life feels unbearable, and moments when I’ve genuinely said “I can’t regret anything, because if I’d done anything different I wouldn’t be who I am, where I am, now.”
In the latter case, those were days when I could truly say “I like myself”, which hasn’t always been so. But even then, I think it’s very rarely that I could have said “I love myself,” and I’m beginning to understand how difficult it is to really love others, and receive their love, if you don’t love yourself. The golden rule (Luke 6:31) points to that truth. So even at those times I should have regretted that I didn’t see myself as God does.
And anyway, as so often, reality lies somewhere between those extremes of perception. None of us are perfect, and so it’s necessary that we must have regrets. Think about it. With no regret, there would never be a reason to say “sorry” to anyone. Who among us has never needed to apologise?
But equally, regret can be misguided. As the article says, and I’m learning, we make decisions based on the information we have at the time. If we make a wise and kind decision then there is no point in regretting it later, even if another may seem better in hindsight, even if we need to apologise later for hurt that was caused. We will be better informed next time.
Sometimes though, our motives are wrong, and our decision reflects that. It is healthy to regret those moments, and to learn from them.
I think the best we can do is to examine our motives and try to make those wise, kind decisions at every opportunity. And to accept with grace and humility that sometimes we’ll fail. I have a strong tendency to over-analyse decisions, which leads to anxiety and inertia. I need to learn to trust my instincts and my conscience more willingly, as my self-doubt is one of my chief causes of regret.