Some might figure that, as a psychologist, it’s part of my job to validate the whole spectrum of emotional experience for people. I guess in a way I agree with that, but only to a point. While we all struggle with a whole slew of emotional states, both positive and negatively charged, some of them are simply unworthy of validation. In particular, I think regret is an utterly useless emotion – a waste of one’s emotional energy. Such a fixation on woeful events chains us to our past and prevents us from moving on. We need to learn to stop playing the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” game and start living our lives. We need to seek forgiveness, atone, make reparations, and move on or life will certainly move on without us.
Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take stock of where we’ve been. If we do look back from time to time I think that we should only do so with the intent of learning something from our experiences, not for providing evidence of our failures and wrongdoings. To focus exclusively on our missteps and past grievances surely contributes to a pervasive sense of shame and doubt. And why waste time focusing on something that has already happened and cannot be changed? If we expended more energy thinking about potential and possibilities, we may find ourselves feeling enervated, motivated, and hopeful about the future. This brings me to Pregret.
Pregret is a term I like to think I coined, but a Google search from some time ago revealed that it was floating out there on the internet in places. Maybe I can distinguish what I mean by pregret by my unique application of the term. When I say Pregret I’m referring to pre-emptive regret. In other words regret for something that hasn’t happened. Are you following me? No, I’m not making a case for our innate ability to foretell the future or to time travel, although that would be pretty cool. In practice I occasionally get clients to think about the people in their lives that truly matter – all the people with whom they share a connection, people who are kind, who treat them with respect – basically anyone who cares about them in some significant way. I then ask them to imagine if these special people were no longer here. Yeah, it’s a morbid thought, but it’s designed to be a thought exercise because my next question is this:
“Would you have any regrets?”
If the answer to that question is “Yes”, then we’re talking about pregret. Now the wonderful thing about pregret is that it concerns feeling regret about something that hasn’t happened yet, so the wonderful thing is that you have the opportunity to take action and do something about it. For instance, someone might have regrets about not spending as much time with the person in question, or calling them, or telling them certain things. Well then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! What are you waiting for - the time is now! So think about it….do you have any pregrets???
Dr. Jonathan Anslow is a licensed psychologist with Southeast Psych who practices at our Blakeney office. He works primarily with adolescents and adults.