I'm sitting here thinking about regret. You might have heard those sayings where people announce that they don't regret anything in their past because the decisions they made were based on what they wanted to do at the time. Okay, fine.
But I'm talking about the regret the dictionary talks about: a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment about something that has happened. I definitely know about that. I have to be careful here, to think about healthy regret vs. unhealthy regret. It's the same distinction I would make between healthy and unhealthy shame.
That is, healthy shame tells me when I have done something that goes against my values, it alerts me to when I have acted in a way which does not fit the way I want to be or act. It is a warning signal that I need to make amends. Unhealthy shame, on the other hand, springs from some place inside of me that tells I am not worthy of being who I am. I most often feel it (lately) when I look in the mirror and see extra pounds. I feel shameful about what I look like and that is the very definition of unhealthy shame.
Unhealthy shame tells me that WHO I am is unworthy, whereas healthy shame tells me my ACTIONS are/were unworthy of who I really am. It's a small, but incredibly profound distinction. Since I've learned to distinguish between the two, I've worked very hard at talking myself through the unhealthy shame, and examing the healthy shame to find out where I've let my self down so that I can do better.
But back to regret. When I think about the healthy regret in my life: not working harder in school when I could have, not making an effort to be more social, not working harder at becoming proficient at another language. These are all areas that I can still do something about. I can't go back to college (well, I can, but I'd really rather not!), but I can still learn. I can still be more social. I can still work on becoming better at that language.
The unhealthy regret stems from the stuff I can't change. The time I was mean to that girl in middle school. The way I treated my little brother when we took a trip to London as kids. I cannot go back in time and re-do those events. I look back and feel a good bit of shame about them. And I'm disappointed in myself. But I have the eyes of an adult now. I make sure I don't recreate those actions as an adult.
If I ever make any of you think I am this super-kind, never-hurts-anyone kind of person, I am sorry I did that. I can be one terrible person. I have a bit of a mean streak. But I know the regret I feel about hurting people in the past. I know how I have felt when I have been the victim of another person's meanness. All that regret, experience, and insight help me sometimes to be more kind that I would have been, and most of the time to make amends when I have been a big jerk.
I'm not the kind of person who has rainbows and unicorn dust shooting out of my fingertips, but the healthy shame and the healthy regret in my life help me make the world around a little more pleasant to live in. And as I go forward, the regrets become fewer because the ones I have had teach me to live better.