Existential Psychology


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“You can spend your time alone redigesting past regrets. Or you can come to terms and realize you’re the only one who can’t forgive yourself. Makes much more sense to live in the present tense.”
-Eddie Vedder

Regret is a normal human response to missed opportunities, mistakes, or having wronged someone. If your moral compass is working then you have probably felt regret many times in your life. I was considering whether there are any psychological benefits to holding on to regret, and I could only come up with one. It helps you construct a guidepost so that you can make sure your present and future actions differ from whatever past action caused you to feel regret in the first place. Other than that regret as an extended state of being is worthless and will hold you back from living a full, meaningful life.

You can stir filth this way and that but it will remain filth. Many people make the critical error of putting their lives and their growth on hold because of a past mistake, punishing themselves for what they have done, ruining their present along with their past. You don’t overcome regret by staying fixated on it. You overcome regret by transforming it, using it to guide your actions, helping you to create a better life for yourself and the people around you.

A hangup for many is that they wronged someone in the past and there is no way to make it right now, either because of death, because of the severity of their action, or because it’s impossible to reopen lines of communication. They don’t realize that redemption is still possible. If they choose to devote their lives to lifting people up, to adding positivity to the world, to developing their own unique skills and talents in order to do something great with their lives, then each moment transforms that original action, since they wouldn’t have chosen this new path had the original action not occurred.

You are not helping yourself or anyone else by focusing your time and energy on the mistakes you have made, stuck in the past and feeling regret about all the things that went wrong. We can go so far as to say it’s a selfish attitude. As sentient organisms, every moment is pregnant with possibilities. We have almost unlimited choices for how to think, act, and be. Why would anyone choose to waste their present when they already feel so bad about having wasted their past? It makes no sense, yet so many of us fall into the trap. If you use your regret as a guidepost to live a great life, to live and to be the opposite of whatever it is you feel regret about from this moment forward, your story of failure will rewrite itself into a story of triumph.