Edith Piaf remains an icon and her best loved song, “Non, je ne regrette rien”, remains an anthem in part because of the issues that so many of us have with regret. If the emotionally vulnerable Parisian sparrow could live free from regrets then maybe the rest us can also.
Women who are just starting out on their journey of recovery from abuse are often stymied by the specter of future regret.
Curiously, that regret isn’t generally about wasting their time, love and energy on an emotional Neanderthal. Instead it’s about their own perceived failures in the relationship and the fear that they might yet realise that they have given up on a good thing.
(Quite why a ‘good thing’ would masquerade so resolutely as a bad thing defies explanation. But any woman who is prepared to believe in the fundamental goodness of her partner, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, should never accuse herself of a lack of optimism. Sure, it may be misplaced, but it proves that she has a capacity for unlimited optimism that she can begin to turn to her own advantage.)
Future regret is a worst-case scenario in which a woman views her unhappy relationship through rose coloured blinkers and sees a yet more distorted and selective reworking of reality.
Future regret is actually an expression of present fear: fear that she will never again encounter such a wonderful human being (truly); fear that life has nothing more to offer her, nor she to offer life; fear of the void that awaits her.
Abuse breeds fear, and fear breeds paralysis.
It’s powerful stuff. But where does it come from?
Abusive partners endlessly – and in all seriousness – tell women just how wonderful they, the abusers, are. They brainwash women into accepting a questionable worldview in which abused women have been blessed with the incredible, unrepeatable good fortune of being tolerated by a prince-among-men…
Now, suppose these women have already been subjected to a schematic vision of the world in which their alleged unworthiness is tolerated (just), by their (wonderful) parents or family members. Then, much of the groundwork has already been done, even before a prince-among-men (P-A-M) appears, croaking his endearing frog-like croak.
Given their lack of self-assurance, abused women assume that a P-A-M-free future is likely to be worse than reality à deux. They don’t think that this is actually an incredibly tall order. Abusive men are, after all, past masters at ensuring that things are as bad as they can get. (Some will continue to do so, even after the woman ends the relationship.)
Nevertheless, it is possible for abused women to create the future they want for themselves. All the more so once they realise that present fears cannot accurately predict future reality.
In “The Sedona Method”, Hale Dwoskin makes the telling observation: “Feelings only lie. They tell us we are going to get from letting go of them what we already have from holding on to them.” So it is with our fears and regrets. What we fear we will regret by letting go of a situation, is simply what we have by holding on to it.
As a general principle, people who instill in you a fear of what you might live to regret are precisely those who feel they stand to lose by what you might decide. Their (unspoken) fear is that you might spread your wings and fly, leaving them behind, earth-bound. In other words, in an undeniably neat maneuver, they have managed to dump their fear onto you, in the guise of your alleged future regret.
Once you can see how regret is designed to hamstring you, you can start to move forward into the unknown and the future free of your old fear.