by Suma Chand, MPhil, PhD
handling regret

Reviewed October 2020

In the early years of my career as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist I often struggled to find a way to help some of my clients cope with their thoughts and feelings of regret: “If only I had recognized my cheating boyfriend for what he really is,” or “I wish I’d been a better and more patient mother to my son,” and “If only I’d studied harder I would have done better in life.”

Over time I have found that one very effective strategy is to ask key questions. These help move people toward thinking and behaving differently about their regrets.

The Questions

I often start with this question:
“Have you noticed how the excessive regret affects what you do and say?”  

Responses typically indicate the negative influence of regret, such as losing confidence, not wanting to be around people, and being more self-deprecating than necessary.

I then ask these questions to explore a regretful situation further:

1.  “Could I have acted any differently considering the particular stage in my life and the information or experiences I had until that point in my life?”

If you were to ask yourself this question, you will probably realize that you did what any person in your shoes would have done given your background, circumstance, and the information you had.

2.  “Was it only me or did anything or anyone else contribute to my mistake?”

I have always found that people who are drowning in regret take complete responsibility for their mistakes. But they don’t take into consideration any other factors that contributed to the problem.

3.    “Was there anything I did right in the situation that I regret so much?”

This may not be easy to answer. I’ve often had to explore the situation more closely to help my clients recognize what they had done right.

4.    “As a result of this regretful experience, have I changed the way I behave and respond to similar situations?”

Most likely you’ll find that you have learned some important lessons in life, and that you are better off as a result of the very experiences that you regret.

5.    “Is there anything you can do now that will make any difference about how you think and feel about a situation you regret?”

This may help you take some corrective actions with regard to what you’ve regretted for a long time, such as expressing your regret to someone you hurt. It can also make you reevaluate your current choices and take actions move toward goals you regret not having moved toward earlier.


It’s OK to be an imperfect person because that’s what we all are.

Excessive regret is often linked to not being OK about making mistakes. So the solution to not experiencing regret is to not be perfect. It’s OK to make mistakes simply because it is impossible for humans not to make mistakes and experience some regret. 

About the Author

Suma Chand_0_0_0.jpgSuma Chand, MPhil, PhD, is a clinical psychologist specializing in cognitive-behavior therapy. She is an associate professor in the Department of Neurology & Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Saint Louis University.

As an adult, I feel so I'll equipped to master life. Don't know how to start a progression of new experiences. In older and feel I've never really lived out who I am. I have insurance for therapy, but the counselors I've had, I feel, aren't patient, as I know I need to process my childhood wounds. I keep looking. Hopefully I'll find someone that can help me learn how to launch. Thank you for listening.

Dear, ..........

As I was hastily reading this article I came upon your comment and couldn't help but feel compelled to read it and write back to you. My main purpose was to bring light and peace into your mind and show you there is hope. I hope you know that you are not alone but there are many there for you, have hope, press on, have peace. I believe in you, even though I do not know you and you do not know me, I know that good things are prepared for you and you can do this!! I have faith in you and remember to not perfect-ionize life you're good enough! Keep going you can do this, doing your best isn't being perfect at it but having faith it will be okay and being okay that you are not perfect! It is not your purpose to be prefect, have hope, faith, and you can do this.


Hello Ms. Jane, I also had a horrific childhood. Many types of therapy. The best was ECT, I was able for a long time to forget that I was worthless because that's what my parents told me I was. When they died I didn't even cry or get upset. I felt free for the first time in my life! Really all therapist can do is be there to listen and reassure you that you deserve a good life. Nothing can ever take away the memories. Talk therapy helps me because I can actually say the things that have happened, because regular people can't handle it and I don't want them to know my business concerning my abuse.

All my life has been a regret up to date even my kids used me
I feel powerless over my emotional hurt anger regret
My anxiety makes me crippled to the point I don't know anything but mental and physical pain for weeks and months it gets better but then back to being hit by the truck again
I feel helpless as I'm in a toxic environment where I'm rejected reminded I I'm not sort of the kids lives worthless
I have severe abandonment issues and all my life I struggled for a family to give and receive love from
My kids order out food eat together never talk to me or make eye contact buy things I only wished I could afford for them now they have it and I don't even have my sanity to get out
They are normalizing their behaviour and I fall for it

I am so sorry. I feel so bad that you feel so hurt and turmoil, but I have some words of advice.
Have peace with you today, have peace, I pray for you and your children.
I hope everything will be okay, may peace be unto you today. I hope everything will okay, I pray you may feel my love for you and those with you that you may have peace.

I have continual regret. Simple things and choices, some of which I cant say that I would or could have handled in any other way. I cant quite understand where it comes from. some times it feels like my subconscious is punishing me for being happy as it pops up more frequently then.
Thanks for the article. ive got it saved as a fave,.

Thanks for your comment Dan about regret. It is a very bad habit of mine that I struggle with from time to time. I think the Answer really lies in trusting your gut feelings concerning decisions you make - for me if largely seems related to travel and later regretting not having seen a particular place, even if at the time it didn't Even occur to me. Crazy I know but our minds often play silly tricks on us. Go Easy on yourself is Also key. Be Good to yourself and orhers and Just chill is so important. John

I used drugs and gambled away money that was meant for my family. My wife and kids missed out on travel and many life experiences because of my actions. From age 47-50 I was wasting all of these family resources. I finally got help. However, I was not totally honest with my health care providers (especially about the gambling) and was misdiagnosed with depression instead of bipolar disorder. The meds made me manic. I attacked my wife. My behavior was reprehensible and unforgivable. And I was so manic that I asked HER for a divorce when I never, EVER intended to do so. Well, she had had enough, so now we are divorced. I am so sad for my kids. I miss my family so much. The regret is absolutely suffocating. Most times I don’t think I can go on....but know I have to for my kids.

So sorry to hear your story Greg. I can relate to your regret. I have always suffered with anxiety and depression too. I did some bad things in me and my wife's early relationship and I constantly beat myself up about it and relive those moments everyday. It sucks. I am sending you hope and good will that you can forgive yourself. I beleive that is the only way out but so difficult. I am 54 and still haven't been able too get over this crap.
I also feel like disappearing sometimes but It would hurt too many people so I try to plug along. I wish you well brother, let's both try to give ourselves a little slack.

Thanks, Claude. I am trying so hard to forgive myself. I’ve read so many articles and books. Some say I am selfish for expecting so much of myself. I am in so much pain and now have a life I’m not even sure I can live.

Greg, I'm so sorry to hear your story. I have bipolar disorder and I also deeply regret how I've behaved in past relationships. I essentially abandoned a (mostly) happy marriage. But bipolar disorder is a beast. It's so hard to get a diagnosis, so hard to get the meds right, so hard to live with. I wish you some grace... it might not seem like it, but it is totally possible for you to create a life worth living eventually.

I too sometimes feel hopeless and powerless. Learning self-compassion, self-love and self-forgiveness has been a life saver for me. Free resources. It is a practice that I wish I didn't need to practice. I wish thoughts of guilt and regret didn't find me everyday. But they do somehow, so I must practice. I must.

I’m the exact same. Always judging myself for past decisions that I’m not proud of and now I’ve met someone it seems to be more frequent as I feel like he may judge me as I judge myself, feeling the need to tell him everything so he can judge me the way I do. I need to stop being hard on myself but it’s easier said than done.

I have been
So down the past few days I made a Decision to brake a fight which I god out of good wheel and then I got kicked to the floor randomly by some lady and defended my self and I feel embarrassed on how I acted and if it was on camera

Its normal to judge yourself but the issue is how far do we go with this. This is being hard on yourself so forgive yourself and tell your partner you just want them to know that you feel that way but doesn't mean you are not sane.

I went this far, I told the people I love of my shame and guilt! What was I seeking “forgiveness”?
It made things worse, because now they know of my shame and I no longer hear from my loved ones! I have lost them all!
I have lived with my shame since childhood and it has made me a coy, unsociable
person with very limited self esteem!

, I have continual regret as well. Maybe it’s just the holidays, but I’m in a constant state of regret. This makes me have panic attacks, continually. I have much to be grateful for, yet I’m stuck in this bad place., especially since I’ve lost my mom, cousin and aunt have all passed. Coming from a matriarchal based family, I feel lost and alone

Im sorry you are feeling this way and I really understand as I feel the same way...The moment I wake up the regretful thoughts come flooding in..I try to go back to sleep but then panic sets in. I cant live like this everyday..It sets the tone for the day and its bad..I honestly dont know how to change this from happening ever morning

I wake up every morning, shake and throw up as I agreed to have back surgery 2 years ago and ruined my life. I had suffered bad sciatica in 2014, 2915, 2016 and then 2017. Each time it took me months to recover. In 2017 I was bedridden for a month in excruciating pain. My family doctor said I needed surgery. Two of my sisters kept calling me everyday saying to end my misery and just get the surgery. My mother sat beside my bed everyday and repeated it. So feeling like a burden to my family against my gut instincts I had back surgery. I regret it everyday since. People say I had no other choice. But I did. I could have tried to get better again which takes months but by the 4th time I just had a complete emotional breakdown and gave up. Since that time I have tried to end my life several times. However I’m pretty sure God Hayes me and is going to make me life like this for the next 50 years. I lost a successful career, an active life, being an active engaged mom, a social life, to being in pain unable to sleep, being depressed with anxiety and on medication. Not sure how I move on from this.

Dear Friend, I know how you feel. I also ruined my life and did something I should not have done. Like you, I could say people let me down as well. I think your situation is going to take incredible courage, but be as kind to yourself as you can. Forgive the doctor who meant well but gave bad advice and also the family who did not take into account the risks. You have enough on your plate than to beat yourself up. You would not have done this if you had known. How many people go against their instincts. God does not hate you and is the one Person who can help you if you pray to Him. There is a way to move forward taking one day at a time. You must begin by believing you are valuable and it is worth the fight back to mental and physical health. Whatever the prognosis, do the best to come to terms with the fact you have made a mistake and it hurts. It is absolutely normal to be devastated and you are suffering bereavement of the life you had. What have the medical profession told you about the surgery problems and what can be done. Nothing too hard for God though. I pray you be healed in Jesus Name. God loves you.

I’m exactly the same and at the same time feel vulnerable and fearful where I used to feel strong

I have done really bad in grade nine and even before that leaving alot of classes and making my parents unhappy, now at this moment my dad thinks I'm crazy for being home all the time which I'm not, how does he even know He is at work all the time and I go outside and play for hours and hours and go to the gym ect. What I want to say is one thing I have done is I have said to myself that I'm not gonna f around no more, I'm gonna pick my self up and change my life around even with all the negativity around me, hope God helps all those that are in need. Life is not about what happens to you, it's about how you react to what happens to you.

Thank you so much for this incredible exercise. Instantly boosted my mood and helped me reason a feeling of deep regret for having wasted time and not preparing for my Masters.

A Ghost In A Shell

September 27, 2018

I did not give a positive answer to any of these questions. Unfortunately my regrets were instances in which I made a bad decision despite common sense. Most people would not have done the things I've done, which have sent my life spiralling downward.

I have learned nothing of value because what I have lost in time, money, self respect, and opportunity was far greater and cannot be redeemed.

I too did not get a positive result from these questions, How are you dealing with it and has it gotten any better? So hard to get better, most articles are about normal regret on things that really are not bad or your bland. But How does one get over excessive regret When you have made a bad choice?

I understand and agree with you. I left my good job to follow a dream and now i am homeless and unemployed. Some mistakes are just too big to forget and move on. No one would have made this choice unless they were delusional. People say move on but when you have destroyed your life you cannot forgive yourself for it.

I turned down a position personally offered to me the OWNER of Carnival Cruise Lines for reasons that, in retrospect, were totally unfounded. The result was the loss of a lucrative career in a field that was (and still is) my passion. I repressed the consequences of this mistake for 30 years, and I suffered 30 years of psychosomatic physical symptoms of undiagnosed illnesses. In October of 2017 the reality manifested into my consciousness exactly 30 years to date of turning down the offer; miraculously, all symptoms of physical illness disappeared! Now I live a life of perpetual mental torment! I truly wish I could repress the reality of what occurred and feel sick again. I can relate to you "not being able to move on when you have destroyed you life and can't forgive yourself for it!"

Dear Derrick, I feel for you. Just wondering how old you are. Probably younger than me, I’m almost 59, assuming that you are. You’re unemployed and homeless. However I didn’t say that you are health less. If you’re still relatively young and healthy, you can find a job get an apartment, and make a new start.

Let go of the regrets so what you lost money, ain't gonna be the first, so what you lost time, self respect? Go somewhere new, where you are anonymous and start afresh. Go somewhere cheaper and start with a clear mind. Live day after day , this too will pass.

What about the article, or these comments, makes you believe the people looking for this have the means to just "start over". Really?

Dear, friend
Let me tell you one thing, life is hard when we leave our life with regret for taking wrong decisions. But running away is even worst, make changes where you are be active do thing that you always want to do. Go out of your house, go back to school to meet other people. Hire a therapy who can help you with good advice. Do meditation and exercise. We are responsible to find what we need no body knows what we feel for sure. Wherever you go is a possibility that you will feel the same. Depression is giving up on life, as time goes by we are less happy we are killing our self little by little. Eat well be more active take vitamins. Wish you the best

I see the article speaks of learning and knowing you did what you could in the situation and all that crap.

I have made decisiomd that I fully knew would lead to regret. I knew when making the decisions that i would regret the choice I made. Fully aware of what it would lead to but I still did it anyway. I knew what the reason for my actions were, I knew who or what influenced them. I knew that what I was doing was not necessary. I did things despite knowing better. There's no positive lesson to be learnt. No way to say I did what anyone in my shoes would do. I did things that went against my better judgement. I'm a clear thinking, logical guy with a good level of self awareness.

So where's an article on that? Where's the article on why we do things knowing fully that we going to regret it?

Some things, we deserve to regret. Some things we have no other option but to feel bad about. Some things we shouldn't forgive ourselves for.

Man I feel the exact same way... just knowing that people feel the same way as I do makes me feel much better than I did before. Just keep on telling yourself that this too shall pass, and when you think about your bad decision, try to push it out of your head.

I'm in the same place. I've ruined myself with a bad choice I made. It was an impulsive selfish choice that I immediately regretted, but it has ruined relationships in my life and, worst of all, my mental health such that I can't even be the man I used to be to try to rebuild. I am constantly drowning in such regret, self-loathing, and depression that my life is miserable and I'm falling apart. People say time... well, I don't know.

I too just ruined my life with an impulsive selfish choice. Unfortunately, the ill-advised selling of our home also affected my wife negatively. And it is that part that
is causing me the same neuroses. I'll continue to pray to my God that we will be healed. Blessings.