Dealing with Guilt and Regret
Too often we are dogged by the dark clouds of guilt and regret. Regret is the feeling of wishing we had (or not) done something in the past different than we actually did. Guilt is feeling bad, or even disliking ourselves, over some past act or omission that caused unjustified hurt.
Dealing with Regret
Time, as we perceive it, is linear. What is done is done and can never be undone. The most powerful man on the planet cannot change by one iota what happened a fraction of a second ago. Given that, stop worrying about the past. You’re only wasting precious energy that ought to be channeled into now.
We all experience feelings of regret at some time in our lives. Since we don’t always (ie never) perform perfectly, after any event there will be feelings that we could have done better.
Begin by accepting that our imperfection is not only inevitable but also part of our very purpose, ie to learn.
Knowing this, bite the bullet and openly and honestly review what went wrong. This may be painful but it’s the only way to profit from disaster. Analyze what you should have done; what you should do in future; what you can do to improve yourself to prevent similar failings. And make these lessons part of yourself.
Winners never quit and quitters never win - Vince Lombardi.
Never give up. Failing to achieve a particular objective first (second, third or nth) time around does not make it unattainable. Is the thing that we missed still possible? and appropriate? If so, learn the lessons, grow stronger, and try, try again.
By taking the lessons on board, we can safely let go of the negative feelings surrounding our regret. The past is gone and can never be undone. If we have adapted and grown, and our determination is intensified, then be satisfied the experience was worthwhile, a step along the journey to ultimate fulfilment.
The only thing we have any control over is now. Focusing on now is the only possible way to make amends past mistakes, whether it be seeking to regain lost opportunity, or moving forwards in a different direction with the benefit of lessons learned.
How to Overcome Guilt
What of guilt, where we have not just under-performed, but actually done some harm in the process? Don’t beat yourself up too much. The fact that we feel guilt at least proves our humanity and our compassion for our fellow beings. That is no small thing, so give yourself a big pat on the back.
If we have done harm to another, materially or emotionally, then we have a duty to try to compensate for that harm. We can never turn back the clock, but we can attempt to ensure those we damaged are no worse off as a result of our misdemeanors.
Sometimes the person to whom we feel guilty cannot be adequately compensated. In such case we can always make some contribution to the general good, perhaps donating to a worthwhile cause, or doing a favor to a complete stranger etc. Since we are all one anyway it matters not.
Avoiding Guilt and Regret
By taking greater responsibility for our choices we can reduce, but never eliminate, the causes of guilt and regret.
Despite our inherent imperfection, the best form of cure is prevention. Incarnate entities (like us) operate largely at an automatic, instinctive level, and for much of the time this works well, eg how often do you arrive at a familiar destination with no recollection of the journey, and it wouldn’t be so good to have to remember to breathe. But we often abdicate our responsibility for making conscious choices to the internal auto-pilot.
Try varying a standard routine, just for the sake of change! Instead of doing the things you’ve always done just because you’ve always done them, question them. Are they really the best, or is there a better option. Just by taking control and actually thinking more about what we do we can improve the quality and effectiveness of our judgment and avoid, somewhat, the errors that fuel regret.
Too often in this world we are results-orientated. The end justifies the means. This is wrong. The end, at least physically, for us all is the grave. What really counts is the process, and the intention. If you want something, and you try your best to get it, you are fulfilling the purpose of your existence. For whether or not you achieve your hypothetical goal is unimportant.
What really matters are the lessons you learn, and the contributions you make, along the way. At the end of the day material achievements are wiped out; but lessons learned, and experience gained, contribute to personal and universal Spiritual growth.
If you do “wrong”, don’t allow it to destroy you. If you are here on earth it is because you are meant to be here and you have a duty to make the most of every second of your existence. Acknowledge your mistakes, gain from them, make any necessary recompense, resolve to put them right, and move on stronger and wiser as a result.