Regret: Self-Directed Resentment

This is time of year when people consider New Year’s Resolutions, future aspirations, sometimes related to mistakes or omissions from the past. In a recent holidays gathering of friends, one man shared his own challenges with recurring regret over things he has done or not done expressing a desire to leap over them whenever they arise, much like a pole-vaulter sailing over a nest of rattle snakes.

regretI have not spent much time feeling regret in the past several decades. I believe that my 12-Step practice of routinely clearing resentments, making amends and forgiving myself has played a big role in this liberation from regret. Making amends to anyone I have offended in the past – by way of apologies, asking for forgiveness or even restitution when it is called for is one way to close the loop in these regretful situations.

This process also seems to dissolve resentments. When I hold onto a resentment – which I see as synonymous with failing to forgive someone – it only hurts me, the “resenter.” The person or situation I resent isn’t suffering because I refuse to forgive them; but I suffer. I’m the one carrying around the unexpressed emotion which can lead to illness and all sorts of physical maladies. As Nelson Mandela was reported to have said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

As people shared their stories about regret in our holiday gathering it became clear to me that regret about something one did or failed to do is a form of resentment. It is a judgement about something that happened or didn’t happen in the past. But in contrast to being a resentment about somebody else, it is a resentment about oneself.

The antidote – the way to liberate yourself from this vicious cycle of regret – is to fully forgive yourself for what you are judging as a mistake or a wrong you’ve done.