Dr. Stephen L. Salter

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Facing Regrets

What does it mean when someone says, "I have no regrets."

Is that even possible? Perhaps there's a secret somewhere that enables selected individuals to conduct their lives with impeccable wisdom??...never a need for therapy.

I personally believe that everyone has regrets, but that for some it feels right to adopt the attitude of what I describe as the "positive thinking crowd." It's an attitude that is very familiar to us and with address to regret it sounds something like this: "I have no regrets because I have always done my best at every moment." "I don't have regrets but only lessons learned." "Everything happens for a reason." "Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." "That was the way that god willed it," etc., etc...

I believe that anyone who examines their personal history long enough will come to experience regret, and deeply... Furthermore, if given the opportunity to somehow change, to rework history by doing things differently, they would not only take it, they would run endlessly over burning coal and fueled by their souls boiling blood to make it happen.
Of course, our existential predicament continues to demonstrate any such wish as a therapeutic impossibility. The path not taken is forever lost.

And so it makes some sense to become part of the positive thinking effectively assert, "I have no intention of enduring the pain of the regrettable...and as long as you agree not to also, we've got a deal; we can support one another by keeping our thoughts in the moment and moving forward.  Let us live in mutual denial of all that could have been."

By contrast, facing regret deepens the soul. In facing regret, we face loss-regret is the death of a wish.  When a close friend confides their regrets, they become more human to us.  We become connected to them by a common recognition of loss.  When a loved one dies, we honor them by mourning them-remembering the times we shared and imagining the times we could have shared with them.  By mourning together, we become connected by what matters most to us.