This certainty that if you could, you would magically transport yourself back to the moment you made the decision you question today. You would be different than you were.
You think that somehow, you are capable of willingly doing something horrible.
But really, the feeling of regret is not an indication that you’ve done something wrong. You feel pain because you can’t accept that at the time, you did exactly what was best for everyone involved.
Regret means you’re ready to be forgiven. It is a call to forgive yourself in this very moment.
No matter what your belief system, you are always doing the thing you think will help you feel better than you currently feel. Either that, or you are testing the waters of unhappiness, discovering whether or not they are bearable, and if happiness is really worth the effort. Even then, though, you are weighing discomfort of unhappiness against the discomfort of effort, deciding which one will make you feel better.
Fake cliché story I will invent now:
You’ve been cheated on. Do you trash his car, or do you move on, and “be the better person”? Which one will make you happier? Which one will feel better? For some people, the answer is clear. For others, it isn’t. Maybe both seem equally satisfying. Maybe both options feel terrible.
Maybe you think you probably shouldn’t destroy his car because you might feel a little guilty later, but maybe the ecstasy of payback will drown it out. So, you trash it. It turns out it was his sweet old mother’s car, which she had spent her life’s savings on. You feel terrible. Birth of regret.
You find out the cheating story was a rumour. Worse.
Or maybe it was his car, and he did cheat on you, but you feel so much worse than you thought. It wasn’t worth it. Birth of regret.
In any of these cases, your knowledge of what it meant to feel guilty was not clear enough to motivate a decision you wouldn’t regret.
How do we know what a “good” decision is, without knowing what a “bad” one feels like? Stories aren’t enough. We learn through experience. What does a “bad” decision mean, if it is, itself, necessary for “good” ones to exist?
Who you were is not a story, a decision, or the product of an outcome. Who you were, are, and will be is always a moment. The present. Regret is self-punishment, but the one you are punishing is the person you are NOW, not who you were then. You are punishing the person who has grown, evolved, become greater. Doesn’t seem very fair, does it?
Regret is an opportunity to accept that you did the best you could then, just as you are doing now. And we all know that we are who we are partly because of our mistakes, aches and pains. You needed (and wanted) the lesson in exactly the way you got it–and if you are feeling regret, then you did get it.
Forgiveness is practice for the next time you mess up.
It’s a penny in the bank.
It’s betting on the process of life. Which, by the way, is the only way to feel peace.