Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Infamous Kissing Cousins: Regret and Guilt

Quote of the Day:
One's real life is often the life
that one does not lead
~Oscar Wilde~

Current Local Weather:
Latent heat followed by gusto amounts of electrical activity
near the intersections of regret, shame and guilt.

Currently on my iPod:
Innocent Bones
"The Shepherd's Dog"
Bryan Sutton

Dear Friends, Family and My Family of Friends,

They say, whoever they are, that regret is the worst enemy any one person can have in their lives. Worse than Hitler, worse than that Hussein dude and worse than its counterpart, guilt. I think some people truly think regret and guilt are kissing cousins, but they're not.

Wikipedia (if it's on there it must be true, right?) defines Guilt as:
...the fact of being responsible for the commission of an offense.[1] It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believesaccurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation.[2] It is closely related to the concept of remorse.

Nowhere in this definition of GUILT, does it talk about regret.

However...REGRET is defined as:

...a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors. Regret is often expressed by the term "sorry." Regret is often felt when someone feels sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance or guilt after committing an action or actions that the person later wishes that s/he had not done or having not committed an action or actions that the person later wishes that s/he had done. Regret is distinct from guilt, which is a deeply emotional form of regret — one which may be difficult to comprehend in an objective or conceptual way. In this regard, the concept of regret is subordinate to guilt in terms of its emotional intensity.

Yet in the definition of REGRET, GUILT is mentioned. And not only is guilt mentioned, it's mentioned as a deeper form of regret than regret itself. Hmmm....

Question is: do you have to feel regret for the things you're guilty of?

Answer? I don't think so. For those of you who personally know me, you know I've been through an admitted amount of hell and back over the last few years. But I have survived it all. At least thus far, right? Tomorrow always has potential for failure and success in either mild or extreme circumstances. But they are only that...circumstances.

I was speaking with a friend this week who happens to be going through her own hell. She was lamenting on how she knew this would change her, and probably for the worst, but she was going to take it all in stride. That she had her REGRETS in everything, including her children...and felt, on top of it all, GUILTY for the issues that were solely hers but bleeding over into everyone else' lives.

I am not one to talk about having past issues or cheap knock offs of Louis Vuitton luggage sitting in my trunk...yeah, you heard me, I've got junk in my trunk...

(Tom, Meg...thanks for this lesson...)

But sometimes, even when the junk in our trunk is causing us to have to not only find, but accept, bigger britches than we're used to wearing, we must press forward knowing that a wider load isn't the end all be all of our lives. Take heed of what Tom and Meg did in that cinematic masterpiece JOE Vs. the VOLCANO...they didn't let their baggage sink them. Instead, they used it to stayed afloat and ultimately learned that sometimes staying afloat was more than a blessing, it was the key to their survival.

In my humble opinion, guilt is for those that have committed crimes and religious fanatics.

Regret, I'm afraid, is something that seems to be a part of everyone's baggage with guilt as its carryon at some point or another. But it doesn't have to own us. Coping techniques and various types of therapy can sometimes ward off these feelings when we're at our worst, but they generally aren't a long term cure. At least not an immediate one. You just can't let it own you and shape your life from here, I'm talking RIGHT NOW, on out. It has to be a "thing" in the past. Unless you've maimed another human being and/or have some brunette politicians daughter/rocker chick from the 80's in a deep well in your basement, forcing it to but lotion on its skin, let it go!

I've always thought that living with regret is something no one should have to do. Living with the feelings of guilt AND regret seem to be a self-inflicted punishment that harbors misery as its greatest asset and drug. Whatever you have done, it was meant to be done or done to you, for better or worse. I certainly have made my lion's share of mistakes over my so far short 34 years, but every one of them has made me stronger in some way or another. And that strength wasn't obvious, in any one of those lessons, at first or even at the five or ten year mark. It only became clear over time.

Am I saying this because I think I'm better than any of you? Absolutely not.

It's just too bad that as humans we take these things and let it go around in our minds, or our friend's minds, until we're practically paralyzed with the thought of whatever we did as our former selves. It's poison. This is when we need to be honeybadgers. Ya know, the crazy nastyass kind that don't give a f*** if poison is coming from their food. They just get back up and go on with their crazy ass, fearless ways. (although I highly recommend you keep your love and careful regard for your fellow man, unlike the honeybadger.
But these days, it's harder to keep our perspective than it used to be. I just have a strange feeling that we're all going to be honeybadgers before we know it. We're already eating poison, intellectually speaking, on a regular basis and having to get up and move on regardless...more on that in a later blog...Thanks Walt!)

So, when you're at your worst and think that this feeling will be your closest enemy for the rest of your life, think again. Let it, instead, keep you and everyone else afloat as a lesson learned instead of a weighted participle of grief on your shoulder. Remember, it, whatever it is, could have been worse.

You are worth the world. Always.

Yours in Honeybadgers, Honing in on the Future, and Housing Feelings in their Proper Place,



Chris Lemig said...

So, I'm gonna come at this from a Buddhist perspective here. Regret can actually have positive and beneficial qualities when we separate out the guilt. Guilt is nothing but narcissism turned upside down. When we feel guilty, we often say things like "I'm so terrible! I'm stupid for having done that! I don't deserve to live!" The main object of all that sniveling of course is the all important "I". What we're really confirming, in a negative way, is our wish to be the most important person the universe.

On the other hand, when we notice that and work with it, over time, we can learn to abandon that kind of self-centered thinking and work on honestly assessing our actions. This is where a healthy regret comes into play. We acknowledge mistakes, evaluate how and why they were harmful to ourselves and others and generate a mature resolve to do our best to avoid those actions in the future.

(Yeah, whatever, Yoda.)

Anyway, all that is much easier said than done. But as I gain a little bit of success in doing this, I find myself less ensnared in that trap of guilt and shame.

Thanks for the great post!

Cicily Janus said...

At Chris Lemig: You're right. I suppose I didn't make this as clear as I should have. The regret I'm more talking about is the regret of things that you shouldn't want to change, i.e. kids etc. and to add to this further, the self centered place this regret and guilt come from often overwhelm those around you. And if it continues past the socially accepted norm, i.e. months upon months of grief that isn't lived out but grief that a life is being lived through.

Then again, that's what friends and family are for...the kick in the pants to say, listen up sistah: Let's learn from this, move on and show us how you have improved yourself or your ways or whatever else you think was lacking in the past and live for the now in the future.

But're a living testament as to how using regret for the past has turned out to be a living lesson and life changing voice for others. And I'm soooo very glad to have you read this and give us all your insight. xo