Dealing with negative emotions (e.g. guilt, shame, and/or regret) is one of the most controversial topics in the self-help movement. For example, when it comes to dealing with regret, some recommend that we should just ignore the past and move on, while others recommend years of therapy. Of course the best answer is somewhere in the middle path.Scriptures tell us that, “The sorrow [desire to change one’s ways] that is in alignment to the will of God, produces a repentance [change and amends] but without [overwhelming] regret.” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This means that even God encourages personal sorrow and regret as long as it leads to us choosing to make a change, but not to the point of beating ourselves up.
What is Regret?
Regret is an emotion that might very well control us more than any other. And since it is also an emotion that we often try to ignore or repress, it tends to do its damage beneath the surface of our conscious mind. Some of us allow such negative emotions to exist because we assume that we “deserve to have regret” as a punishment for the “poor choices” we’ve made. Others take the opposite approach and try avoiding regret by brushing it aside, never taking responsibility nor attempting to improve upon themselves. The former of these can be a statement of being a victim; the latter can be a statement of pure arrogance.
There is another option. Regret can serve us for good in that it can remind us to refrain from repeating the same mistakes. However, this could imply that our fear of experiencing the negative outcomes of our past errors will make us “behave” our way back into God’s good graces. This is simply not so. Although it’s probably better, most of the time, to behave than to misbehave, it is not authentic for human beings to “behave themselves,” if such “good” behavior is merely motivated by guilt or regret. We are all coming to the understanding, however, that there is a part of us–the Christ within–that is so pure that it need not be “frightened into behaving.” The Christ within is pure Love, and where pure Love is, fear cannot exist. Besides, God already sees us as perfect and sinless and not needing to be “scared straight.”
Regret is also a form of self-condemnation, created by our ego as a means of keeping us in a state of un-forgiveness. When we use regret to keep us from doing something “wrong,” we are trying to tell God that we’ve got our own plan for correcting errors. We therefore think we will not need God’s plan for release–known as “forgiveness of self.”
Self-Forgiveness is God’s Plan
Self-condemnation is also our ego’s way to keep us from learning and healing–our only two reasons for being here on earth. This, in turn, keeps us from being liberated and free. Instead, for us to heal our regrets, we have to confront them–head on–by processing them and then coming to peace with them!
There is clearly a fine line between the varying uses of regret. On one hand we know it is useless to deny our feelings of regret. On the other hand, we know regret is birthed from the ego and is nearly always used to lower our self-worth. We can also use regret to teach us to never again misbehave, but again, fear-based learning is usually not in our highest interest. The middle path to these options is to use our mistakes as a means of learning about ourselves and also as a means of becoming closer to God through forgiving ourselves.
So how do we know if our regrets are valid and that our awkward feelings about previous behaviors are valid or not? One way to know is to ask ourselves if we would repeat the past behavior in the present time of our life. If not, then it probably wasn’t for our highest good in the past. If we are still uncertain, we can ask ourselves if what we did choose to do in the past is something we would recommend to others–particularly someone we care about. If we wouldn’t recommend certain choices and behaviors to others, then why in God’s name would we try to justify that it was okay for us?
Dealing with Regret
By looking at the following few options, we might better see where we stand when it comes to our most common means of dealing with regret:
- “I have no regrets.” This applies to people who refuse to own that they’ve made mistakes. They might deny or minimize their behaviors but all are merely aspects of denial or avoidance.
- “I live with constant regret, guilt, and shame.” This applies to people who cannot seem to forgive themselves for their errors.
- “Regret does not serve my higher self.” This can sound suspiciously similar to the first option, but there are huge differences, such as the fact that in this latter option, we remain open to confronting regrets and using them as points of learning and healing. We also can recognize that the reason we now have little or no regrets is because we know that what we thought we did, never actually occurred or, at the very least, that the person who did those things is not who we really are.
It’s easy for us to say we prefer and choose the third option noted here, but, it is much harder to actually understand it. And, if we can’t truly understand its meaning, then we cannot actually choose it, and certainly not on a regular basis.
When we reach a heightened level of Christ Consciousness, we find no purpose in having regret, and for a couple of reasons: For starters, in the ultimate sense, whatever is in the past no longer exists. Second, when we are “born again” into a new level of consciousness–Christ Consciousness–we find that it was not the new (or real) us who committed the errors but instead, it was the old us–a part of us that again, no longer exists. As the Bible puts it, “There is now no condemnation for those who are [newly born into Christ Consciousness].” (Romans 8:1). “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
As with most things, there is more than one way to deal with regret.
- We can ignore it and hope it goes away–pretending we don’t feel it.
- We can allow it to destroy us–always shaming ourselves and our actions, which can then paralyze our abilities to move forward.
- We can take an honest look (self inventory) at whatever it was that we’ve done (past or present) and learn from it–learning what made us choose that decision, what part of us the decision served (our ego or our soul), and even how we can choose differently next time.
But the fact is that we need to do something with it. It does not serve us to pretend we are above it or that we simply don’t feel such emotions. Nor does it serve us for regret to ruin our lives. ”The anger [regret and self-condemnation] of man does not achieve the righteousness of God [a new self in a state of purity].” (James 1:20).
Learning from Past Mistakes
Of course this does not imply that we need to shame or guilt ourselves into making more “spiritual” choices. Instead, the goal is to teach ourselves about us and what makes us tick. Once we “know thyself,” we will make different choices, but not out of fear or attempting to “be good.” Instead, we will make different choices because we understand why we made our previous choices. Therefore, we can now make more educated, self-aware, and healthy choices.
A Course in Miracles explains that errors are merely illusions that are not yet seen for what they are/were and that they are actions or reactions that stem from a misperception of who we are. Therefore they are actions that are rash, unfounded, and misdirected, which means they have no foundation in reality…therefore they are not real. When truth enters the picture, the illusions disappear, “leaving not a trace by which to be remembered.” This, in part, is referring to the fact that when we heal wounds from the past (which includes regret), our mind and brain will literally be re-wired in a way that unplugs the past (leaving no trace) and gets re-wired with new thoughts and belief-systems.
Soul Level Healing
What then, can we do, to come to heal our regrets on the soul level? As with all things that are negative, or outworn, we can recycle them and allow them to be put to a new use (teaching us about ourselves). Then we can bid them farewell entirely. One such means of transforming regret into a miracle of healing is as follows [try it out as an exercise]:
- Recognize there is a problem. Do a self-inventory to see if there is anything you can recall in your life (something you did or failed to do) with which you are not at peace. Look closely to make sure you are including things you would rather not think about.
- Allow yourself to come to accept that there are far deeper issues than you had previously been willing to acknowledge. Once you have some memories or scenarios arise, ask yourself what the other people involved got from you and what you might have got from them. Be honest with this step, as it is sometimes hard to believe that we could get anything from some of our past events (such as abuses). Also, from these regrettable events, are there positives you can integrate or negatives from which you can learn? For example, if I regret not taking a job that was offered to me, I could choose to integrate into myself, and into my own life, whatever positives I liked or admired about that business. Then, I could also choose to learn from the negatives by perhaps owning that I may not have felt good enough for the job or maybe I allowed my fears of change to get the best of me. Now, seeing this, I can choose to never again allow such self-sabotage.
- Prayerfully choose to surrender the entire experience to God, including the people, lessons, and emotions (such as regret).
- Ask instead, that the previous space that this job (the people, the emotions, and so forth) took up in your mind, now be replaced with new thoughts and beliefs. The more self-inventory you did in the earlier step, the more room you have now created for God to move in and become a more active Force in your mind and soul.
- Close your self-healing process by giving thanks that you have bravely bid farewell to so many deep layers of your past and that you have chosen to replace the previous, wounded guide in your soul, with a new, Divine Guide who has only your highest good in mind.
Although dealing with, or healing, regret usually involves going through stages or layers of our wounds and false self, the final stage (which should not be jumped to without authentically going through the earlier, necessary stages) is best advised as follows:
“Lay judgment [of self and others] down, not with regret but with a sigh of gratitude.
It was all illusion and nothing more.”
–A Course in Miracles