Existential Psychology

Dialectics Of Regret

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There is an idea I often discuss with people I see in therapy and it uses dialectics to help change perception about experiences that are commonly tinged with longing. You can apply this same concept to the larger sphere of your life.

This idea is the paradox that when the counseling hour ends if we both feel a sense of regret that there was not more time we can leave the encounter feeling very happy about this fact. It’s one of the most powerful dialectics in the world that the more fulfilling an experience is the more it will leave you with a sense of emptiness when it’s over. You can train yourself to appreciate and even embrace this feeling since it is proof of your authentic engagement with life and people.

When the therapy hour is filled with banalities and runs its course without much impact we can usually start to consider whether we should keep working together or if it’s time to move on. You can also apply this concept to your life. Many of us go through our days only half engaged, probably to avoid the impact of losing something precious. We protect ourselves by not fully inhabiting the moment but it ends up backfiring and leads to a life of emptiness, which is what we were trying to avoid in the first place.

I know someone whose father has been visiting from a foreign country for the last several months. This has been their first opportunity to spend consistent, quality time together over an extended period and they have grown much closer. When he has to go home she is going to be devastated. This is the best possible scenario when you think about it. Her feelings of sadness and longing will be vital proof of the connection they have formed. If they had just gotten along fine then it would be no big deal when he leaves. You have to ask yourself which of the two scenarios is better. The answer is obvious.

We like to play with the fiction sometimes that we are immortal but life moves on anyway. We want things to stay the same forever but without change life would be nothing special. Think about someone that you truly miss and take a moment to appreciate what this means. It means you were capable of forming a real, loving relationship. You accessed the most noble of human qualities. And you had something special. Even though feelings of sadness and longing are the outcome you can also feel very happy about them because of what they mean.