October 27th, 2014 · dealing with regret
Dealing with regret is very often one of the major life tasks of midlife and the second half of life.
In the second half of life in particular, regret can be an extremely difficult thing to deal with.
Regret is Connected to Freedom and Awareness
Statistics are not the be all and end all of human experience, yet research shows that people report experiencing regret much more in cultures that emphasize freedom and individual choice, than in cultures which emphasize collective life and participation. Regret seems to be one of the prices that we pay as unique persons for individual consciousness and the freedom to individually detemine life.
So, in an important sense, it would seem that regret is one of the consequences of being aware of, and taking responsibility for, your own individual life.
Regret Over Long Periods: The Road Not Taken
Helping professionals’ clinical experience suggests that, over the shorter term, people primarily feel regret for actions they have taken, and what results from them. However, it appears that, over the longer term, the biggest sources of regret are for those actions not taken, and paths not pursued
For people at midlife and in the second half of life, regret for the roads not taken can be particularly agonizing. More so than younger people, there may be missed opportunities or unlived possibilities that can’t be re-visited or corrected, or done in a different way. This can lead those of us in the second half of life to “get stuck” in rumination and chronic stress in ways that can damage our psyche and our physical being.
Typical “Big” Regrets in the Second Half of Life
In the second half of life, we can find ourselves caught in regrets like the following.
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This can be a powerful emotion for many, which is sometimes accompanied by strong feelings of being “trapped”.
I wish I hadn’t been so focused on work. This used to be a male thing, but no longer. Now, as men and women who have had extremely demanding careers near or reach the end of their careers, this can be a strong feeling for both sexes.
I wish I’d expressed my feelings more. This can mean, expressed those feelings to those I loved, or, in work or social situations, or standing up for values in my personal life that really mattered to me.
I wish I had stayed in touch with people from earlier stages in my life. Friends, romantic connections, mentors, or others
While not exclusive to people in the second half of life, these feelings can become particularly powerful for individuals at that stage. We know that, in the second have of life, time and opportunities matter. We are simply not able to “do over” significant aspects of our life.
Regretting, Living and Letting Go
How then, can we heal our regret, or find any way to live with it? That’s the focus of this post’s sequel, yet, I think it’s important to emphasize that significant regrets are experiences that many carry in the second half of life. It might be blissful to say with Edith Piaf “Non, je ne regrette rien” or with Sinatra., “Regrets… I’ve had a few / But then again / Too few to mention.”, but for most of us, this would simply be an inauthentic romantic posture.
An important part of the answer consists in not allowing the regret to consume us because the space it would occupy in us is filled with a burning passion to truly live the life that is before us authentically and fully. Making that happen is the true journey of depth psychotherapy .
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst