Learning to live with regret of things left unsaid and undone with a loved one.
You would be hard pressed to meet someone who doesn’t have regret in their life.
Many people won’t tell you their regrets of course. O no, instead they carry them around with them like luggage, day in day out, every day growing weaker by its weight.
Regret of words left unspoken perhaps, regret of words spoken, regret of things once done or left undone, of missed opportunities or experiences … whatever its constitution, its devastations are the same.
Regret is one of life’s most toxic pollutants; subtly draining today of its potential and tomorrow of its opportunity, and instead holding you random to yesterday. It does this by disguising itself as shame and / or guilt. The problem with this however is that they are not the same beast. They may appear the same but they are in fact very different, and learning this truth can set you free from some of the perceived regrets you are carrying. Guilt comes from purposefully doing something wrong. Shame is the feeling of unworthiness because of behaviour and regret is the anguish or disappointment of something you have done or failed to do. Of course pieces of all three interweave themselves to create a much bigger beast, but identifying their differences is paramount to moving past the bondages of regret.
Regret is a profoundly complex issue and one that I cannot hope to tackle in this brief prose.
Some people (my husband to name just one!) is of the opinion that “if you can’t change it why waste emotion on it. It is done, the time has passed and that is that”. You may have guessed by that kind of mindset, that he is a very care-free kind of man… I on the other hand have not been blessed with his nonchalant nature. Words spoken seem to taunt me more than those unspoken. I’m not one to shy away from confrontation – rather I am one to speak before I think which has in the past had devastating consequences. Consequences that I have had to deal with. (Realizing that I was unequivocally in the wrong, I quickly apologized, yet to this day remain at the mercy of some of those harsh words.)
You know what I am talking about don’t you? You see more often than not, we are our own worst enemy and punish ourselves over and over and over again for our regrets –
“If only I had have asked her out on a date when I had the chance”
“If only I had have taken job A over job B”
“If only I had have made it to the hospital in time”
“If only I had have made amends”
“If only I had have told him that I loved him before it was too late”
Now replace “if only” with “I wish” and add in your own personal phrase.
Wishing and regretting go hand in hand. One is often futuristic and the latter is past tense. Unfortunately, neither can affect our here and now.
There is one element of regret that affects us more than others, and that is regrets in regard to lost loved ones. Usually the regret of words left unspoken.
Harriett Beecher Stowe says “The most bitter tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” This is an area that cripples many people. ‘Hearts are broken by words unspoken.’
The cruel and crushing reality is that we cannot go back and say those precious final words, we cannot apologise, we cannot buy them that Christmas present they always wanted, we cannot go on that holiday we had always planned… we cannot.
So please, please acknowledge your regrets (perhaps write them down or vocalise them), but more than that please be kind to yourself and remember that it is not bad to have regrets, it is bad to dwell on them.
We cannot change our past, but we can control our future and ensure that we do not make the same mistake(s) again.
If you love someone, tell them today. If you need to apologise, do it whilst you still have the opportunity to and be kind to yourself, journey through it with a friend if need be but make a decision to no longer hold yourself ransom to your regrets of yesterday.
By Angelica Klein-Boonschate