Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 3: Through Phoenix Gate
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on regret, I have tried to portray something of the nature and power of regret as it manifests in our lives. Hopefully I have succeeded in making one very central thing clear: regret is not some peripheral thing in our lives that is going to be cleared away by simply improving our thinking. It strikes deeper. It is much more fundamental. How then are we to deal with the presence of regret in our lives?
One of the first steps is to frankly acknowledge the danger to us that regret represents. Regret, truly strong regret, has the power to deprive us of a meaningful life in the present, even though it concerns events in our past.
Neither will regret be skirted. It often stands in the center of the road of our journey. The way that it holds our energy can seem hopelessly entangling.
Acknowledging the sheer pain of regret can be very hard to do. As is often the case with strong negative feelings, we try to deny their existence. Yet it is only acknowledging the pain that really makes us aware of the life that has been lost, of which the regret reminds us. And it is only in acknowledging the pain and sometimes the despair that is associated with regret that the energy that is tied up in it can begin to be freed up to move toward something else in our lives. And that something may have real life and real meaning for us.
Despair is usually the last place we want to go. The last thing we want to face in our lives. Yet, it is in our despair that our energy gets caught.
What is it about what we regret that really keeps us from wanting to release it? Can we face the hurt inherent in failed hopes? Does regret really move us more deeply into the question of what our life is about, and whether we find it meaningful or not? As the character Ivan says in the recent film Greenberg , can we really come to accept and cherish a life other than the one we planned?
Carl Jung frequently used a phrase that he took from the ancient world” amor fati . Literally translated, it means “the love of one’s fate.” This is not a phrase to be chucked around glibly, and Jung certainly did not do that. However, the idea of loving one’s fate is the mirror opposite of living a life that is consumed by regret.
When one looks at the painful, and sometimes even horrific events that can be endured by human beings, one can only conclude that it would be a grim mockery to counsel someone to somehow love these actual events. That would be the bitterest possible perversion of some idea of positive thinking. I don’t think that is what Jung means when he uses the phrase amor fati. I think what he does mean is that the person who loves his or her fate somehow lives in hope, and sees a meaning emerging in the midst of the fabric of his or her life. Such a life and such a hope offers the possibility of living passionately into life — beyond the chains of regret.
I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the whole subject of dealing with regret.
Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
© 2010 Brian Collinson