Dealing with regrets

by Beverly J. Valtierra, Ph.D., LCSW

What are regrets?  Regret is sorrow or remorse over something that has happened or that we have done that turned out badly.   Regret can also be a sense of disappointment over what has not happened, such as regretting wasted years. To be human is to have regrets because making mistakes is a universal experience. 

Human regret occurs because we do not know all things, and we do make mistakes. As we age, we often look back on decisions made in youth and regret our choices.  These are normal human feelings.  We are humans, and humans make mistakes.

Joan Chittister, in her book The Gift of Years, calls regrets “the sand trap of the soul.” She adds that regrets “fail to understand that there are many ways to fullness of life, all of them different, all of them unique.”

“You can’t go back and change the beginning. You can start where you are and change the ending,” said C.S. Lewis.        

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  

We will get to the place where our regrets no longer have the power to control our emotions; we will begin to put them into perspective by understanding how God is making good results from our failures. We can choose to focus on the positive aspects of what we learned and trust that God will forgive us. We can forgive ourselves for our immature decisions and decide to grow wiser from what we learned.

In God’s grace and mercy, He has provided a way to deal with regrets when we have not lived as wisely as He wants us to.

Making peace with regret means acceptance of God’s mercy, hope for the future, maybe even laughing at ourselves, and realizing that the passage of time can heal all wounds.

Regret reminds us we can do better and not hate ourselves for mistakes. Regrets can be transformative.

Stages for processing regret:
You may skip some or go back and forth.

Denial— not recognizing 
Bewilderment—did I really do that.
Punishment—I am a terrible person.
Preservation—going over and over it in my mind.
Realizing— I have zero control for what happened now.
Acceptance—I did that, and I am sorry. I learned; God is teaching me.
Action—I can ask God and those I’ve harmed for forgiveness.
Peace—I am forgiven. 



Dwell on these verses.  Commit one to memory.

 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

“But the Lord says do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago.  Watch for the new thing I am going to do.  It is happening already—you can see it now.  I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there”  (Isaiah 43:18-19).

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Then when you find yourself experiencing regret, spend some time going through the stages of processing regrets, above.