Regret, Remorse and Image Building

Regret, Remorse and Image Building


Remember when you made a wrong choice or opted for an option that didn’t go down well and you ended up with an intense feeling of regret. Often in the course of life, we end up deciding upon something that we think is the best decision we have ever made. However, sometimes these may not deliver us the much anticipated positive outcomes. Rather, they desist in an extremely bleak and lamenting manner and we tend to regret it as nothing can be done to undo it.

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What is Regret?

Regret is a very real reaction to a disappointing event in your life, a choice you made that cannot be changed, something you said that you cannot take back. It is one of those feelings you cannot see shake, a heavy and intrusive negative emotion that can last for minutes or even a lifetime. Regret or remorse is a negative cognitive or emotional state that involves blaming ourselves for a bad outcome, feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been, or wishing we could revoke a previous choice.

The psychology of regret

Every one of us might have experienced regret over something or other. Anything that we must have thought would end up beautifully but it counterattacked and we were filled with an ardent feeling of remorse. The root cause of it is not the troubles caused by our follies or errors we made, rather they are caused by our inability to take action or the action we failed to take. A Study done by Davidai and Gilovich shows that whilst 24% of people regretted the things they ought to have done, 76% regretted things that they could have done, but did not.

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The reason for this discrepancy could be that action-related regrets are easier to learn from and therefore turn into a growth opportunity. Regrets of past inaction, however, do not give us the same forward drive. If you decide not to apply for veterinary school in your adolescence, you may spend your adult life filled with regret that you do not have a career as a vet. Regret about actions reduces over time, regret related to inaction tends to be more enduring, and can even intensify as time goes by.

Dealing with regret and image-rebuilding

As remorse makes dents in your soul, you will spend eternity with the wreckage if not dealt with. The most cumbersome and intricate part of regret is, first, coming to terms with reality and second, using this experience as a life lesson and learning from it to rebuild self-image. When the much-anticipated aspirations are not achieved, the resultant feelings of it can be long-lasting, and in some cases, even span a lifetime. It can have damaging effects on the mind and body when it turns into fruitless rumination and self-blame that keeps people from re-engaging with life. This pattern of repetitive, negative, self-focused ruminative thinking is characteristic of depression—and may be a cause of this mental health problem as well.

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For young people in particular, regret, although painful to experience, can be a helpful emotion. The pain of regret can result in refocusing and taking corrective action or pursuing a new path. However, the less opportunity one has to change the situation, the more likely it is that regret can turn into rumination and trigger chronic stress that damages the mind and body.

Research, reported in the AARP Newsletter, shows that regret can result in chronic stress, negatively affecting hormonal and immune system functioning. Regret impedes the ability to recover from stressful life events by extending their emotional reach for months, years, or lifetimes. Edith Piaf, the famous French singer, sang, “Non, je ne regrette rien” (I have no regrets). Should we follow her advice and try to live in the moment, without looking back and without any self-judgment? Or can we sometimes learn valuable lessons by analyzing our behaviour and its consequences?

Well, the answer lies in the fact that regret can sometimes teach the most vital and life-changing lessons. It helps in making an individual more analytical, reasonable and foresighted. It also aids in rebuilding the distorted self-image by restoring faith and resilience. The trauma of making a wrong decision or not being able to act results in making a person feel guilty. The repenting increases incessantly covertly, thereby making an individual less productive.

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To reconstruct a vital self-image for personal growth, it is essential to emphasize the positive aspects of guilt. Guilt, when approached constructively, heightens our self-awareness, encourages a critical evaluation of our decisions, fosters acceptance, and establishes a boundary around our expectations by narrowing their scope. Although regret can be difficult to bear, reassuringly, psychologists have found that the experience of regret can lead to positive outcomes. Research suggests that regret can help make sense of past experiences and facilitate future behaviours. Additionally, it provides insights into the self and can even contribute to preserving social harmony. The following strategies could help you to manage regret to positively support your sense of self.

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  • Understand your choice: The first step in managing regret is to ascertain what sort of person you are. If your ideal self is filled with big dreams or aspirations, consider what is stopping you from taking risks.
  • Reframe your regrets: In their 2018 paper, Davidai and Gilovich found that compared to a failure to live up to our ought self, failure to live up to our ideal self is more likely to linger in the form of regret. Failure to live up to your ideal self is more frequently left unresolved, but reframing can help to shift the burden of regret. Regret is a difficult but effective tool for learning. The key is to find a way to grow from your regrets without loathing yourself for past decisions.

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  • Choose a choice: Holding on to regret can be incredibly painful. Regret of an action can occur instantly but can lead to a desire not to repeat the behaviour. Inaction does not trigger the same immediate regret but instead causes long-term disappointment and “what if” rumination. If you are unsure about a choice, it may be best to behave in a way that is active, rather than inactive. If you later come to regret the action, chances are the regret will be less intense than if you had declined to act.

Some corrective measures that can be taken care of are:

  1. Making sense of the world
  2. Avoiding future negative behaviour
  3. Gaining insight
  4. Achieving social harmony
  5. Improving the ability to approach desired opportunities (presumably because we regret past passivity).

Despite being a difficult emotion, regret has value in motivating corrective action. The presence of regret can be used to propel you into acting in a way that makes reparations for past decisions. If you miss an opportunity, peace can be found later in life by investigating the psychology behind your choices and acting to feed your desires in a new, yet satisfying, way.

References +
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