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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Regret

June 3, 2020  | 

{3 minutes to read} I recently read an article in the New York Times by Dhruv Khullar, MD, in which he wrote about the possible detrimental health effects of feeling regret.

Dr. Khullar believes that doctors often ignore the toll that regret can have on someone: “We often don’t explore the role regret might be playing in the distress many patients and families experience, or acknowledge it when it’s clear that it is contributing to their pain.”

The article focused on regret and the consequential feeling of guilt experienced by someone who delayed addressing a health care concern, either for themselves or for a loved one. But it also noted other circumstances where feelings of regret can haunt someone.

Regret certainly has its place in a separation or divorce. Someone wanting to stay in the marriage could feel “if only I was more aware of their unhappiness, we would still be married.” Someone who prolonged leaving could feel regret about the economic consequences in having stayed married for a longer period of time.

Objectively, of course, it doesn’t help to feel regret. Adding guilt or being angry at yourself on top of the myriad of emotions you are feeling is not helpful. But how does one avoid it, or at least lessen its impact?

Dr. Khullar suggests:

“Simply naming regret — creating the space for patients to confront and explore this emotion is an important step ...”

In the medical context, he believes that the doctor should then reassure the patient or their family members that “they made the best decision they could with the information they had.” Further, the uncertainty of medicine does not guarantee that, even had the person acted in the way they feel they should have acted, the result would be different.

In the context of a couple separating, it’s also uncertain that having taken the action you regret not taking, the effect would have been different. You are always dealing with another person over whose feelings and emotions you have no control. You addressing your spouse’s unhappiness doesn’t guarantee that you would not have gotten separated. And letting the other person know you want out of the marriage may not have resulted in a timely separation and financially beneficial settlement, if they weren’t ready to move forward at that point.

So, if you’re feeling regret that is interfering with your ability to move on, get the reassurance and support that you need from a mental health professional, friends, or family. It can help you to stop blaming yourself, and recognize that contrary to popular belief, hindsight is not always 20/20, especially in areas where emotions are a large part of the dynamic. 

Clare Piro Attorney and Mediator

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Comments
Maryann M
July 31, 2020 - 7:25 AM
Enjoyed this article because it points out something we often forget in regret....that no one says the outcome would have been different. Dwelling on the past is such a waste of time but we all do it. We can't change it. Hopefully, we learned something from it and move forward with our lives. The human experience brings joy as well as pain. The human experience is also finite so move on and live. Thank you for sharing this article.
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