As humans, regret is a normal part of our experience. And in true human fashion, we have a tendency to respond to the discomfort of regret by further punishing ourselves with negative self-talk, harsh judgment, and unproductive thought patterns. Often the fear of experiencing regret is enough to make us think twice about a choice or hesitate to make a decision altogether.
Think about a decision you’ve made because you wanted to avoid feeling regret. Did you feel at peace about that decision, or did you feel like you were choosing “the lesser of two evils”? Did you successfully avoid regret or did you feel it anyway?
Think about a time when you avoided taking action. What made you hesitate?
Think about a time when you’ve felt regret. Tune into that feeling, notice what happens in your body when you recall that memory. Pay attention to what it makes you want to do. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? Regret has companion emotions – embarrassment, sadness, guilt, shame, frustration, remorse, anger – that make the regretful experience complex. These emotions are all pretty uncomfortable and that discomfort is motivating. It makes us want to avoid those feelings, either by ensuring we decide differently next time, forgetting the regrettable experience, or both. That’s where the negative self-talk comes in. Our internal critic wakes up and works to drive home just how bad that decision was in the hopes that this will protect us from feeling those uncomfortable emotions in the future.
Now imagine yourself being brave and making a decision you know you’ll regret, but simultaneously telling yourself, “I’m not going to beat myself up over this. Every choice has a reason.” How does that feel?
Every decision we make is based on the available information at the time. Every choice is informed by a reason, or several reasons. Regret is a natural and normal response to a decision we wish we could change once gifted with the benefit of hindsight. However, there’s a difference between feeling regret and beating yourself up about something. Put simply: I can regret a choice I made and also choose not to beat myself up for it. Every decision has a reason and blaming myself later is unkind and unfair.
Regret is an unavoidable part of being human. Choosing to treat ourselves gently when it happens is a powerful action.
Blog Author -- Jodie Voth, RMFT
Jodie is a full-time therapist and owner of Voth Family Therapy. She enjoys working with teens and motivated adults who are working through transitions and relationship challenges.