Blogtalk: Living with Regret

by Amber Lea Starfire on December 2, 2011

Do you regret wrong decisions you’ve made? What does it really mean to feel regret? And is life better without it?

In the following TED talk, Kathryn Schulz makes a strong case for accepting regret as a positive and reasonable emotional response to bad decisions and mistakes. “We should feel pain when things go wrong,” she says.

Schulz lists the ways we commonly deal with the pain of regret—most of them, negative—including denial, bafflement, self-punishment, and obsession. I encourage you to watch her 16-minute video and then continue on to ideas for journaling about this sensitive topic.

If the video isn’t displaying correctly, use this link: Kathryn Schulz Talk

Based on her lecture, explore your unique ways of responding to regret by writing about it:

  • What does regret feel like to you? Describe regret using images.
  • When you feel regret, in what ways do you cope with it or try to make it go away?
  • In what ways do you punish yourself for your perceived mistakes?
  • In what ways do you obsess about the mistakes or wrong decisions you’ve made in life?

Schulz leave us with the following words: “The point isn’t to live without any regrets. The point is to not hate ourselves for having them. We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them.”

  • Do you agree with her? And if so, how might you incorporate her advice into your life?

I invite you to join the conversation—leave a comment.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah December 4, 2011 at 10:19 am

Oh my gosh! This is probably the softest spot I have! I completely agree with Kathryn Schulz and she even helped me understand more about what I have gone through with regret in my life. I let my (x) husband make decisions about his children and my child that I did not agree with. Discussing it with him had no effect and I finally gave up. When he left me, the regrets really hit me hard and I spent a lot of time in tearful conversations with the kids (now grown up) apologizing for decisions I had not agreed with but hadn’t had the backbone to keep fighting about. The outcome of these conversations has been what peace I have about what happened. Those who have forgiven – at least because I was willing to admit what happened had been wrong, if for no other reason – have contributed greatly to my post divorce life. I haven’t lost my whole family and that has been a blessing.

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Amber Lea Starfire December 4, 2011 at 10:25 am

Sarah, I resonate with your story, having done something similar. It’s been difficult for me to forgive myself for the pain I allowed my daughter to experience because I didn’t have a strong enough sense of self to stand up for what I felt was right. Through acknowledging and admitting our mistakes, being open about our human-ness, and learning to make peace with the past, we have learned and gained wisdom and compassion through these experiences. As difficult as it is to realize sometimes, we are better people for our regret.

Thank you for your warm and thought-provoking comment.

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Sunny Hawk December 14, 2011 at 9:09 am

I spent a lot of my life regretting who I was and the fact that I lived at all. I regretted that I was not like my sisters who seemed to thrive despite the horrors we lived in growing up. I wanted to be different, to be better, to be ok , to be strong. I wanted to be loved and accepted by my horrific family. I regretted everything about me and my life. Most of all I wanted my mother to forgive me for being born and to not regret having me as her child. My mother, who is deceased a long time, never did make peace with her life and to this day I have no evidence that she ever changed her mind about me.
Regret helped to shape my life and the way I viewed the world. It informed my actions. Helped me make decisions and then punished me for those decisions. It was my constant companion.
After many years of therapy and the help of Al-Anon, I understand myself and my life much better. Regret has taken its proper place in my life. It helps me move forward and warns me of possible wrong decisions before I make them. It helps me feel the inevitable sadness that goes with situations I can’t change. As I discussed this topic with my 17 year old daughter today, she asked me what I still regret in my life. I thought about it and said that I regretted not getting out of my abusive family sooner for I know there were opportunities that I could not take. Yet, even as those words came out of my mouth, I had to admit that if I had been able to leave that life sooner, I would not have married her father and never had her. So in the end although I still have sadness that the past occurred, I would live it again to have my daughter be just who she is and be part of my life today. For not knowing her would be the biggest regret I ever would experience.

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Amber Lea Starfire December 14, 2011 at 10:10 am

Sunny, thank you for sharing your difficult life story with us, because it shows how regret, though painful, can move us forward. And I’m glad, for you, that regret has taken its proper place in your life (that line truly moved me). Like you, there are many decisions I regret making in when I was young — yet, had those decisions been different I would not have brought my precious children into the world. And I wouldn’t be who I am today. So, life being what it is, I am grateful to have conscious awareness of how my past decisions have shaped me and how—now—I have a stronger foundation on which to make decisions for my future.

I wish you warm and happy holidays with your daughter. (BTW, my youngest son turned 17 today :-).

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