Lessons in regret and self forgiveness

Ever noticed how many different perspectives there are to take on certain feelings, issues and events?  This morning I was listening to a radio programme which was dealing with the subject of regret:  those things we do and say that we wish, with the perspective of hindsight we never said or did, but are left with the at times all so painful truth that we can never undo or redo.  We often struggle with the knowledge that they had certain consequences which at the time we could never know (although we may be in denial about this if we are being too hard on ourselves).

At the time we did what we needed to, or at the time we may have had an intuition that the said thing would hurt ourselves or others, but we went ahead never the less.  In this case the regret can be even more powerful, because somewhere we sensed that it wasn’t the right thing to do and we struggle with that knowledge.

The talk back programme today involved psychologists, an interviewer who had recently spoken to two people on her radio programme The Spirit of Things who had lived lives, made choices or done things which caused heartbreak for themselves and others. One of the people was the radio interviewer who made a prank call to the hospital in London where Princess Kate was being cared for following the birth of baby George. The outcome of this call was that one of the nurses ended up committing suicide. The person being interviewed on Sunday night struggled for a long time with feelings of guilt and depression over her actions which had unintended consequences which she had to work really hard to overcome. The second interviewee was a woman who through her addiction to heroin became a prostitute to support her habit.  This path took her down a very dark road which eventually led to sobriety and recovery and a complete transformation.   (On an astrological note its interesting to note that the planet of transformation though such dark experiences is currently slowing to station forward after five month retrograde).

Both people ended up being able to use the pain of the regretful experience to turn their lives around and the key to transformation in both cases led through introspection and pain to self compassion and self forgiveness at the end of a long road.

How often do we beat ourselves up for that thing we did which ended in painful consequences for ourselves or others that we could have in no way foretold? Or we may have been committing actions we were not fully conscious of due to certain beliefs which were false. In both cases the committing of the regretful action was necessary to growth and growth could never have been achieved without the insight of self awareness and forgiveness, also compassion for the self, who at that time was not fully aware of so many things.

I took great comfort from the programme today and the lesson I took away was that it was the perceptual filter through which we are able to view these experiences was what made all the difference in whether regret became a destructive inward implosion into self abuse and castigation, or a transformative experience which led to deeper understanding of and compassion for self and others.  In the end it is all a matter of perspective and a journey along the road of coming to peace with the very human condition of imperfection, vulnerability, ignorance and mistakes.

Early into my own recovery from addiction I was lucky enough to come across the writing of Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman who has written a wonderful book called Addiction to Perfection. In it she explores the lives of her analysands who were raised by an ethos of unrealistic perfection, many of them learned to bury and deny their own humanity and imperfections in a quest for control of the uncontrollable.   One of the loveliest questions in this book that stays with me so many years later is inspired by a poem by W H Auden : “Can I learn to love my crooked neighbour with my own crooked heart.” (and perhaps more importantly can I learn to love my own crooked heart and accept it as it is?)

Not all of us get the opportunity to grow straight, tall and true. We may have learned to bend ourselves out of shame (that was a typo but I will leave it here, I meant to write shape… mmm)..to get the love which in the end we need to find within in. In the face of much external criticism we learn to criticise ourselves with the same perfectionistic, unreal standards.   No one has struggled with this more than me.

For a long time I struggled with the inner accuser who I internalised from school and home and this voice could lay me to waste. I attracted it in many of my relationships and absorbed its painful judgements wholesale. It is only in the last six months or so that I have been able to challenge this voice with a voice of compassion and love.

Many listeners of the programme on Radio National this morning expressed gratitude for the opportunity to hear the perspectives of others on the programme. One person spoke about the painful consequences that follow when we keep our regrets buried or hidden inside and struggle with them silently.

In my twelve step programme there is a way to make peace with these kind of regrets, through sharing with someone else and through making amends if that is necessary, either to ourselves or others. What a lovely awareness that we don’t need to struggle alone, that we can open up and reveal our very human vulnerability and be loved anyway.   A very precious gift.

I took a great sense of peace into my day today after listening to so many callers on this programme sharing their experience, insight and hope.  It inspired me to share it here too.  So I hope it touches someone’s heart.

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