We’ve all experienced it at some point (or many) in our lives. It might even be a constant lingering feeling you live with.
Regret can be a powerful emotion. It can pull us down into sadness and depression, or help us to learn more about ourselves so we can grow.
There are many things we might feel regret for: missed opportunities, unwise choices, procrastinating, arguments, bad relationships, relationships we missed, not spending enough time with the people we love, or not helping someone when we know we could have.
The purpose for this post is to explore why regret can feel so strong after someone close to us dies. There’s really no quick fix for healing regret when we lose someone close to us, but understanding what’s happening inside us during this time can be extremely helpful.
This was inspired by a member of the Peacekeeper Project community who shared this with me recently. With her permission, I’m sharing her words for you here.
“A close friend and neighbor passed away a few days ago. He was a very private person who came to me for help quite a bit. I tried to support him as much as I could, without letting it get out of hand. Now, of course, I feel like I could have and should have done so much more.“
What is Regret?
Regret is something we feel when we look back on events and choices in our life in hindsight, and feel like we could have, or should have, made different choices. Choices that might have had a better outcome. It might also feel like we failed to live up to our “ideal self.”
Regret is not a solitary emotion. You’ve probably noticed that when you feel regret, it’s usually accompanied by a range of emotions such as shame, guilt, frustration, sadness or disappointment to name a few.
Can you recognize any of those emotions in yourself when you feel regret?
Regret During Times of Loss
There are two categories of regret. One is where we regret something but there’s still an opportunity to do something about it. Maybe you had a fight with a friend, you said things you regret, and now you haven’t seen them for years. There is still an opportunity to talk to them and express yourself.
The other category is where there’s no opportunity to do anything about it. Loss falls into this category.
So, regret in situations of loss can be more intense because there’s the realization that there will never be the opportunity to do something differently with that person. That’s intense!
Death can be a great clarifier. It’s very awakening!
There’s a reason why many spiritual traditions or systems of self development use death as a teacher. The practice of imagining that this moment is your last before you pass on is powerful. What will you regret about your life?
Usually there’s some preparation for this, but when we lose someone close to us, although we might think we’re prepared, when it happens, we might just realize we weren’t as ready as we thought.
Emotions Amplify Regret
Being reflective is a great asset to personal growth, and losing someone close to us naturally makes us more reflective. But it’s important to understand that the context through which we reflect impacts how we reflect.
By that I mean, the emotions we’re experiencing when reflecting impacts what insights we gain – whether we feel them as positive or negative, or the degree of regret we might experience.
When we reflect from an elevated mood of joy or curiosity, we have different reflections and insights to when we reflect from a mood of sadness or grief.
When we lose a friend, family member, or someone close to us, there’s usually a lot of emotion stirred up inside us… and those emotions naturally influence our thoughts and how we respond to the things we’re reflecting on.
It’s not that the emotions are right or wrong, they’re real and valid experiences. Grief, sadness and regret are very natural emotions when we experience loss. It’s just important to understand that they do have an impact on how we respond to life events… in this case, how intensely we feel regret.
If you’ve lost someone close to you, the regret you feel may be amplified by all of the other emotions you’re feeling.
Why is this important?
Because it’s possible, that through your amplified regret you’ll judge yourself more harshly and feel even worse about yourself. While this is normal, when you understand how your emotions can amplify your thoughts in a particular direction, it can help to ease some of the suffering you might be feeling.
It’s not that you won’t feel all the emotions coming up for you, but just understanding this can bring a degree of peace to being ok with where you’re at and what you feel.
What else can you do?
Feel what you feel.
Allowing yourself to just be present with the emotions coming up for you can be very revealing and healing in itself. This means allowing yourself to sit quietly and just feel your emotions to the extent that you can.
Sometimes that will be challenging, because your emotions will be intense. We all have different tolerance levels for what we can feel, so be with your emotions and feeling to the degree that you can. If you’re willing to do this, you might just realize you are capable of more than you realize.
Try to refrain from judging how you feel. Just feel it. If you can engage an attitude of curiosity this can be helpful too. In my previous post – Power Of Curiosity Part 1: How It Can Help Heal Emotions And Open Your Heart – I dive deeper into the power of curiosity to heal your emotions.
Any meditation or mindfulness practice you’ve done in the past will help you to be present with your feelings.
Remember, this process of being present with your emotions translates into not amplifying your regrets out of perspective.
Acknowledge your regrets
Be clear about what you regret. Write them down.
Talk to someone close to you and share your feelings about them.
Acknowledging our regrets by writing them down or verbalizing them, helps release some of the excess emotion. Sometimes when we write them or speak them, there’s a letting go of some of the heaviness regret can bring.
Learn from your regrets
Your regrets might bring you down but taking time to see what lessons there are for you is also important. What can your regrets teach you?
Do you regret a pattern of behaviour you displayed towards the person you lost? Maybe you were impatient with them. Do you still do in other parts of your life towards other people?
If you regret you’re impatience (or whatever behaviour it might be) towards this person, then the regret can be a gift to help you recognize something about yourself that you’d like to change.
We could say, the regret you feel is a gift from the dearly departed – without their passing you may not have recognized your behaviour.
Feel gratitude for the connection you did have
It’s natural to feel regret after we lose someone but be sure to reflect on the good things too!
Recall the good times. Feel them!
Feel the connection you had with this person… Notice how your heart responds. You might also feel the sadness and grief. Let it be there, but feel the connection too.
When you feel the connection consciously, you tap into a deeper part of yourself – your heart.
The connection you had can be a catalyst for opening your heart. You might even feel a deeper sense of connection than you previously felt with this person… because you’re doing it consciously.
Be patient with yourself.
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