It’s a phrase I will probably never understand. All I think when I see a meme like this:
is….seriously? For real, bro?
There’s nothing in your past you wish you could change?
On the one hand, there is the whole, “I ate 3 more tacos after I was full… no regrets” kind of no regrets. You know, or the “I danced ‘The Macarena’ in front of my entire office…no regrets” kind of no regrets.
But what about times we have just plain screwed up? When I hear these inspirational quotes about how you should have no regrets, because your choices have made you who you are today, and mistakes are just lessons learned, I am left thinking, “yeah, but what about the impact our choices have on other people?”
Yes, the other humans who inhabit this planet. We don’t live in a vacuum; our choices have consequences for us and for other people as well.
If I could go back and change the ways I have hurt people, I would do it in a heartbeat.
For many years of my life, particularly in my childhood and adolescence, I had a pattern of hurting people I was close to: needing to be superior them, making them feel “less than,” or drawing them in to closeness with me only to shortly discard them.
I’ve done what I can to make amends to those I’ve hurt in this way who are still in my life; I’ve apologized. I’ve changed. Yes, I’ve learned from the experiences, and yes; it has shaped me in to who I am today.
But being on the receiving end of my mistakes has shaped those I have hurt too. And do I have regrets?
My mistakes can’t be undone with easy platitudes like “no regrets.” I have yet to discover how to go back in time and change things (although let me know if you know something I don’t here!), and apologizing and being different in the present doesn’t erase the impact I’ve had on others.
The task becomes learning to live gracefully with regret. For me, this means having compassion for myself—looking back on the little girl/angry adolescent who behaved as she did, and understanding why, understanding how it happened.
As a therapist, much of my time is spend listening to people’s stories. I have known many people who have done terrible things. And you know what? I just love them. I have yet to meet someone whose choices are not understandable in the context of their life’s experiences. The task becomes to see ourselves with eyes of compassion and love while simultaneously recognizing our errors. This practice teaches me to forgive myself; it teaches me how to forgive others, to see we are the same.
Living gracefully with regret also means allowing the regret to humble me, to remind me I don’t have it all figured out, to remind me I have blind spots still, to remind me I am no one—to remind me I am everyone.
A wise woman once taught me what to do after recognizing I’ve erred:
Turn to the light and live.
I’ve messed up. We all have. And we’re okay.