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  • Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 2: The Power of Regret

    In my last posting, I tried to open up the whole subject of regret, and the powerful and sometimes crippling place that it can occupy in our lives, and how we can be held in slavery to regret of all the choices we could have made differently, or courses of events that could have turned out differently.  In this posting, I’d like to pose the question: what exactly is it that gives regret its formidable power?

    I believe that Paul Simon’s Slip Sliding Away is a wonderfully expressive song that expresses something of this aspect of regret with great eloquence:

    In regret, something of our energy, our emotional life, ourselves, even, gets caught up with “the way it might have been”.  The longed for possibility, what could have been, comes too close to the heart for us to let go of it entirely.  And yet, at the same time, we are caught in the excruciatingly painful awareness that the longed-for will never be, cannot now ever be.  The chance for it to be is gone for good, and we feel the pain, but can’t let go.

    All of this would be so simple if it were a matter of will!   If we could just give ourselves a stiff talking to, and tell ourselves that the past is past, that we should leave well enough alone and move on, how great that would be!  But with the worst cases of regret, it just doesn’t work like that.  We may reason and reason with ourselves, and yet sometimes we just can’t let go and move on.  To do so can feel like we are killing a part of ourselves, which consequently just lives on in some shadowy half-life.

    The reality is that regret is grounded within us somewhere other than in our everyday conscious minds.  It is grounded in the deepest hopes and aspirations that we have, that have somehow been unlocked as we dared to hope for their fulfillment, and have then been undone, by our decisions, or just by the course of life.  We are caught and crucified by our yearning for a life other than the one that turned out.

    Regret will not truly be healed through our self-discipline.  It may be hidden in this manner, but not truly eased or released.  It is only by having the courage to truly go into the regret, to open it up and understand it, that we can begin to transform its energy into something life-giving.

    Have you ever had the experience of moving beyond a deep regret?  How did that happen for you?  I’d welcome your private communications, or any of your comments that you would like to post.

    My Next Post: Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 3: Through Phoenix Gate

    I wish you all the very best on your  personal journey to wholeness,

    Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


    PHOTO CREDIT: © Sascha Burkard |

    VIDEO CREDITS: “Slip Sliding Away” © 2010 Paul Simon under exclusive license to Sony Music Entertainment. These images are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

    © 2010 Brian Collinson , 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario, Canada L6J 5L7

    1. jamenta


      August 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm -

      Well written and to the point Brian. One reason why I have never subscribed to the currently in vogue cognitive theory psychology – which IMO is more like brain washing and/or attempting to make someone into some kind of cookie cutter personality, that is, someone who cognitive psychology considers healthy if they fit within some statistical norm, or achieves certain well researched cognitive theory goals.

      Jung I don’t believe bought into this either, and probably would be the first to say that some of our deepest emotions and personality complexes can not simply be excised away, or forceably removed by the ego alone (or by drugs or a lobotomy which modern day drug therapy is little more than).

      Deep regrets I think you must simply learn to live with. Like a dark shadow that you cannot escape – your own shadow that indeed can be a terrible source of pain for a lifetime.

      Some things in life simply cannot be resolved. The West has this philosophy of eliminating our problems (and in the East they wish to simply ignore them). Jung’s answer is we must live with them and learn from them – even the deepest wounds – and the deepest regrets.

      And only love can bring the rain.

      1. Brian C
        August 2, 2010 at 5:21 pm -

        Thank you very much for your comment, John. I think that everything that you have to say is pretty much to the point. Certainly, regret is a feature of life, and we cannot expect to just have a “regret-ectomy”, and have it removed. We have to find a way to live with it, and if we can manage such an extremely painful thing, there is healing and life to be found. I hope to say something more about this in my next blog post.

    2. Raggles


      November 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm -

      I haven’t had experience of moving past a great regret, but am engaging that work now in the wake of recent death of my analyst of 20 years. At the end of our work came a great dis-connect that jarred both of us quite deeply. Before we had a chance to address it, he took ill and died soon thereafter. My grief is heavy, and I wish to have had that last meeting to talk with him .

      1. Brian C
        November 2, 2012 at 2:17 am -

        Thank you for your comment, Raggles. I’m very sorry to hear of your loss. The relationship with an analyst can be a profoundly intimate one. To lose an analyst after having a 20 year relationship with him would be extremely difficult under any circumstances, but I can imagine would only be more so if there was important work that the two of you needed to engage in, but were unable to finish. This is a time, I’m sure, when you must be experiencing deep regret mised with intense grief.

        I wonder whether, at the right time, it might be meaningful and important to try and engage the issue that you feel that the two of you needed to enter into, with another analyst. This would not be something to be entered into lightly or flippantly, but, at the right time, and in the right spirit, it might be important, or possibly even essential to do. I can imagine that to do so might take a great deal of courage, but it might be a very important way of acknowledging and honouring the relationship that the two of you had, and the work that you did together.

        Please accept my sincere best wishes for healing and meaning at this difficult and sensitive time. Thank you once again for your comment.

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