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Dealing with Regret: 4 More Insights for Moving On

November 2nd, 2014 · dealing with regret

In the first part of this post on dealing with regret, we looked at the nature of regret; here we look at some clues or hints into how to possibly move through it into the rest of our lives.

dealing with regret

An important part of the answer may well consists in not allowing the regret to consume us because the space it would otherwise occupy in us is filled with burning desire to live the life that is before us authentically and fully.

Quit Passing Judgement on Yourself

Here is a key insight: I am not in a position to stand in judgment on my own life

Only in the rarest circumstances are we in a position clear-sighted enough to have some kind of clear view of our actions, their effect, and, ultimately, their meaning in the whole context of our lives.  Only rarely, if ever, do we really grasp the influence of the unconscious psyche on our decisions.


It may be a real benefit to have the right kind of “spiritual”, philosophical or observant outlook, that allows us to recognize that, whatever we choose to call it, there is something greater than ourselves determining the course of our lives.  Out of the heartbreak and loneliness of an extremely difficult life, Dame Julian of Norwich was able to say “and all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  These words might seem like a flip exhortation to “keep on the sunny side”– unless uttered by someone who themselves has been through some very, very dark nights.


It’s fine to say, as I did above, that we should let our regret be swept away by burning desire to live the life in us that really wants to be lived.  But how do we recognize this burning desire?  Intense regret may seem to eclipse any such passion or meaning.  This may well be where the individual is called to examine the desolate places in his or her life, the “swamplands of the soul” as James Hollis calls them, to find the embers underneath the damp leaves of time.

dealing with regret

This is demanding work.  We may well need abiding support in doing it — the kind of support embodied in depth psychotherapy, or Jungian analysis.

Amor Fati

Jung often uses the phrase “amor fait” — “to love one’s fate“.  He makes it clear that such a phrase is not to be used glibly or lightly.  For Jung, the product or the fruit of mature life can sometimes be that which is often contrary to the spirit of youth: an acceptance somehow of the inexplicable rightness of one’s own life.

Hollis reflects further on this:

Anyone conscious of, or reflective upon, his or her history will be humbled and obliged to pause and discern those threads of influence that are at work in us all the while….  Loving one’s fate means that we live as fully as we can the life to which the gods have summoned us.  We are here to figure out and serve what life asks of us.   This is not resignation, it is not defeat, it is not fatalism, it is not passivity… In the midst of defeat for the ego, we are blessed with concommitant abundance [italics mine].

He goes on to quote the words  of Yeats’ poem “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”:

dealing with regret

This is not some glib piety.  If we are fortunate in our aging, it might be wisdom we can take to our own breast, rather than advice to give to others.  Yet, at the right time of life, it may prove to be deeply healing.

Depth psychotherapy can often assist in dealing with regret, as it can bring awareness of aspects of ourselves that can take us beyond the limited perspective of the ego.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Tamas modified ; Bill Strain modified;  Eliazar Parra Cardenas
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Dealing with Regret: 4 Insights for Moving On, 1

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.

dealing with regret


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.

dealing with regret

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.

dealing with regret

 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

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Geordie Hagan ; Cristiana ; Bruce Tuten 
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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