I need to start today’s post with the caveat that we cannot change the past, so I don’t intend to encourage over-thinking nor self-pity. Nor do I intend to present yet another self-help article, there are plenty of those already.
When I was much younger, I used to say that if I were given the chance to live my life over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing. I didn’t realize then, that if I had few resentments and no regrets, I was either not paying close attention or I wasn’t living. I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t harbor at least one major resentment or regret.
The accepted definition of resentment is a feeling of anger or displeasure about another person or an unfair action. Just by virtue of being alive, we are going to be wronged. The violation of our well-being might happen through the speech and actions of family, friends, teachers, bullies, employers, or society at large. At the time, we may have been unable or ignorant about how to respond.
A major resentment that continues to haunt me is one that also manifests as a regret. The federal government and the state government of Nebraska prohibited me from legally marrying the person of my choice until last year. Furthermore, people like me have been severely restricted regarding adoption of children. So, the resentment/regret is that I was not able to grow the legitimate family of my dreams.
Sure, there were nations that welcomed and encouraged same sex marriage and adoption. For various practical reasons, relocating my life to another country was not a viable option.
Once in awhile an acquaintence or family member will talk about their children or grandchildren. This might trigger thoughts of resentment and regret in my mind. Intellectually and rationally, I have settled these conflicts, but emotionally, they will probably always linger. Usually, I’ll ruminate about my plight. Eventually, I shake it off, accept, and move on again.
The best that I’ve been able to do about this situation is to channel that emotional energy towards advocacy and activism. Here again, regret pops up. I wish I could have become more of an advocate for LGBT rights much sooner. I should have been marching in the streets with placards, long ago. I could have made a difference.
Many, many people share similar situations. Something happened that could have been addressed, but wasn’t. A lack of self-confidence kept someone from effectively responding to abuse or neglect. Another person did or said something that could not be taken back. A big screw-up happened that will haunt a life for years to come.
The thing about resentment and regret, is that we have the luxury of time. Time to think about others’ and our own speech and actions. We can analyze to our hearts desire about what should have happened regarding a scenario, what could have happened if we had had the presence of mind, and what would have happened if we had chosen a course of action.
We tend to forget that the regretable thing we said or did happened in an instant of haste, mindlessness or under the influence of clouded judgement. We did not have the luxury of time to think and reflect.
Something similar happens when somebody or an institution causes us great harm that we resent. Someone else acted out of unawareness or rudeness. An institution had official policies that provided the rational excuse for egregious behavior.
For whatever reason, the violation happened. We can only accept that it occurred. We eventually learn to accept that the process of resentment and regret will not just magically vanish. It will return. We can again let go.
We learn to forgive others and ourselves even if we cannot fully forget what happened. After all, we’re only human.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Portuguese scholar, writer, philosopher Fernando Pessoa. “The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd: The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.”