Dealing With Regret and Remorse

Next time you're tempted to wallow in negative feelings, it may be wise to look around and compare your situation to others who are worse off than you are. This may show you that things aren't quite as bad as they seem, according to researchers from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

They recently conducted a study looking at people's coping mechanisms and found that when dealing with feelings of regret and remorse, downward social comparisons can help you move on emotionally. Such comparisons can also improve your health in the process, too.

This is because when you experience regretful feelings, a biological response is set into motion that disrupts your hormones and your immune system and makes you more susceptible to illness. However, the scientists found that participants who looked to others who were in worse shape headed off this reaction and were less likely to experience cold symptoms and other signs of illness than their peers and to feel better overall. People who compared themselves to others who had more advantages ended up feeling worse.

Examining the Logistics of Dealing With Regret

To come to these conclusions about dealing with regret, the scientists looked at 104 adults  who filled out a questionnaire about their biggest regrets, which included scenarios such as not having enough time to spend with family members and wishing they had married someone else.

While past studies have identified a connection between age and how people cope with regret, the latest research discovered that age didn't have any impact on the coping with regret mechanisms. Rather, the key to dealing with regret well seemed to be feeling in control over changing their circumstances around the issue in question. These findings were published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

What This Means For You

When you find yourself coping with regret or remorse about a situation, it's important to keep this research in mind and try to use it to your advantage. It can help to look to others who are worse off than you are in order to help you deal with your feelings and keep them from making you sad or at risk for illness.

Also try to avoid the temptation to compare yourself with others who are in a better position, since this can end up magnifying your feelings instead of putting them into perspective. If you find that your feelings of remorse and regret are overwhelming, reach out to your family and friends to talk about your feelings and also seek the help of a trained mental health counselor.

Your doctor, nurse, or religious leader can direct you to reputable mental health resources in your area. You can also visit the National Institute on Mental Health's website.


Bauer, Isabelle. "Making Up for Lost Opportunities: The Protective Role of Downward Social Comparisons for Coping With Regrets Across Adulthood." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 7 (2) (Feb. 2011): 215-228. Web. 24 May 2012.

Concordia University. "Coping with Regret: Study Examines How to Overcome Disappointments." 1 March 2011. Web. 22 May 2012.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). "Finding Help for Mental Illness." N.d. Web. 23 May 2012.