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by Suma Chand, MPhil, PhD
handling regret

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.

Acceptance

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.

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’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 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.

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!"

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?

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.

I was wondering if you could express your opinion on the urge to disclose some actions to others to help your own guilt.

The actions that I regret never affected anyone on a personal level other than myself, I feel sometimes though to shout everything out to the world. I know this would be very unhelpful and would cause hurt and pain to those I love, both me and my therapist agree that the wisest thing to do is to just move on and let my past die in me.

This doesn't stop the selfish desire to unburden my guilt onto others sometimes and although I know I won't it can make life very difficult to bare sometimes. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this please?

I made a decision I fully knew I would regret, but I did it anyway. I’m a logical, intelligent woman, and I made the decision anyway. Now I regret my actions, and have put myself in debt for a long time. So where’s the article saying why we do things knowing we’re going to regret it?

My biggest regret is a brilliant opportunity I had a few years ago that I had absolutely no reason not too take but I didn't take it. Now my chance has gone and recently it has been constantly playing on my mind. I've been struggling with anxiety for the past couple of months for various reasons but this particular regret is either making it worse or has been made worse by it I'm not sure which.
The thing is it was completely my fault and the only thing holding me back was not being self-motivated enough. I hope the horrible way I feel will fade eventually but I doubt I'll ever not be able to regret it.

Dear Doctor,
I have been having trouble forgetting certain mistakes in life and a wake up with the thought of embarrassment everyday. Although I have tried asking these questions that you have mentioned a certain times to myself but it only makes things worse and to let you know that decision I regret the most is getting married. I regret more because despite of knowing that this marriage won't work I'm not doing anything to moveon this leads me to regret more. I have a 1 year old son ,I feel bad for him .

If you are not happy in a marriage, end it. Believe me, you and your child will be happier. I only did it after 18 years but wish I did it sooner as I knew from the start it was wrong. Move forward, Life is too short to waste.

I was being down and regretful over all the girls I could have told that I liked but didn't, sometimes I think they liked me back. I am always upsetting over that, but these days I try to let my feelings be known. This made me feel a little better so thank you.

Thank you for these questions. Recognising my ignorance on key matters, my uncontrollable mental state at the time and the minimal emotional and professional support from those who surrounded me has helped me reduce my regrets a little. We may make mistakes but it is not always completely our fault because we don't live and act in isolation: others have a stake too and the resources available to us may not be sufficient or even correct. In my case, what happened is irreversible and this is maddening, but I know that I ddn't only make mistakes and that I have learned from my experience.

I forgot that I am human, and this was the perfect reminder that I am not expected to be perfect. Thank you!

I feel the same way. I trust Overy and over only to get disappointed. I never speak my mind and allow people to walk over me. I would do things knowing deep down I dnt wanna do it. All because I wanted to please ppl and if they didn't get their way I would be the bad guy and feel bad about it. I always cared about making everyone around me happy. Even ifor it mean jeopardizing my happiness. I made terrible mistake not knowing at the time. I did things that allowed me to lose my self respect and the respect of other. I care too much about my reputation but tarnished that same thing I cared about. I jus wish I could turn back the hands of time and start over.

I left a good professional job owing to multiple factors, such as a difficult relationship with my employer of over 18 years, I have stared my own business which is now in competition with my previous employment, it is extremely difficult mentally and I am very regretful for leaving despite the fact that my relationship was practically zero with my ex boss.
I need to move on but my past just keeps me tormented.

Gosh, this was posted like over a year ago. Still, I can't tell you how much finding this helped me. I've sort of been procrastinating a mental breakdown? And this really helped me get through some obsessive thoughts. Thanks.