5 Feb 2020

I think we've all been there. We look back and think, "I really wish I hadn't done that." Even if there are no consequences to our words or deeds, we still regret them.

But, have you ever thought about just why it is that we have these regrets?

It's all to do with that fact that we are icebergs.

No, not great lumps of ice lurking in the North Atlantic waiting to sink unwary luxury passenger liners, but icebergs in the fact that nine tenths of what we are is underneath.

Only our actions and behaviours can be observed. The drivers of those actions all lie beneath.

The reason why we have regrets and remorse – even when we "get away with it", is that we are acting in a way at odds with that nine tenths. There is a fracture in our iceberg.

The first level underneath is our skill set. We all have different skills. Some of them we are proud of, whereas others we take for granted. If, however, we produce a poor result in an area in which we have skills, we feel embarrassed or ashamed. For instance, I make a pretty good cake. If, one day, my cake was rubbery, or tasteless, I would feel ashamed and almost humiliated. New skills can be learned, however. I am still trying to learn how to make a good Yorkshire Pudding!

The second, deeper level, is our beliefs. Our beliefs are not just political or religious – they are beliefs about the way things are. My husband believes that Volvos are the safest car on the market and because he values safety (see values below), he will always drive a Volvo. Any other make would be a betrayal of those beliefs. Beliefs can change however, in the light of new evidence. Just think, very few of us now believe in Santa Claus...

Our values are deeper still; the product of our upbringing, education and natural inclination. Values are harder to change than beliefs, yet we can still betray those values, through fear, or anger, or hardship. Sometimes we compromise, and then feel uncomfortable. If we value loyalty but betray a friend; if we value hard work, but illness forces us into unemployment; if we value honesty but lie through fear: a profound, if subtle, unhappiness will result.

Last, and deepest, there is identity. This is the deepest part of us that we cannot change. If we are straight-talking, we may learn diplomacy; but underneath, we will always long to tell it how it is. If we want to win, then we may learn to be a gracious loser, but our competitive streak remains. Not trying will always feel wrong.

Sometimes it's worth analysing these uneasy feelings of regret, to see where the dissonance lies. As Polonius says, in Hamlet, "This, above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man"

True words, those.


A Moodscope member.

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