Guilt and regret are like two flowers on a single stem—intimately related, yet each with a distinct bloom. Regret looks backward, and you feel sorrow or remorse for something you did or didn’t do. You made a decision, chose a course of action, and it didn’t turn out well. “I could have handled it differently,” you think. Regret is a form of feedback to you if you pay attention to its signal, allowing you to learn from your mistakes and use your experiences to be smarter in the future.
When you find yourself thinking, “I should have handled it differently,” you’re experiencing guilt. You feel remorse for something you did or didn’t do, and are distressed because you violated your personal values or beliefs.
On the good side, regret and guilt indicate you have a conscience, so they can be helpful to you if you heed their warnings. On the down side, they can take over like kudzu, stifling your potential for growth. It can be helpful to remember that you aren’t the same person who made that mistake or violated your values because ideally you’ve changed and evolved into a new and better person since the incident. You don’t have to stay stuck in regret and guilt. Instead, take that mental energy and put it to better use. Turn your guilt and regret into something positive for your future.
- If you’re feeling regretful, can you make amends by apologizing or setting things right? Be big enough to do so, if possible. Also, what lesson did you learn?
- With guilt, try redirecting that negative energy into something related and positive you can do now. What are your options? Choose one and take action.
- Write a letter to the affected person, whether dead or alive, sharing your feelings. Mailing it is optional.
Guilt and regret: you can turn them into something positive in your life.
by Kathleen Vestal Logan, MS, MA April 9, 2018 excerpted from her book Women’s Wisdom: Pass It On! pp. 68-69