Last year at this time I wrote about Valentine’s Day as a way of celebrating love: showing affection, understanding and intimacy for our beloveds. This year let’s talk about loving ourselves–especially dealing with the difficult twin emotions of regret and forgiveness.
Author Daniel Pink has written that regret is the most common negative emotion—and the second most common feeling…after love. “Everybody has regrets,” he writes. “It is healthy and universal, and an integral part of being human. Done right, it doesn’t need to drag us down; it can lift us up.”
Regret is only dangerous to our emotional well-being if we recognize it and don’t address it,” explained Dr. Aimee Drescher, a clinical psychologist at Mercy Health Sylvania Family Medicine. “Letting go of regret is more complex than just seeking forgiveness. There can be great risk in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and seek forgiveness from another.”
“If you attempt to repair a situation that involved another person—how you behaved towards them, for example—it doesn’t always mean that person is going to forgive you. It’s not that simple,” Dr. Drescher said. “A person seeking forgiveness has to shore up their resources and coping tools, because it may not be a pleasant conversation and may not have the desired outcome.”
“Usually, when regret is the result of a rupture in a relationship, whether that is a parent-child relationship or a friendship, the first step in repairing the rupture begins with us. Reflection about what happened in that relationship, how you may have negatively impacted the other person, and why you took the actions are important to reflect on. In addition, it could be helpful to gain feedback from a trusted confidant or even a therapist. Most importantly, you have to understand and forgive yourself in order to take the next steps to repair that relationship,” Dr. Drescher stated.
This path is reflected in the seldom-shared experience of one of Sylvania’s most highly-regarded leaders, Dr. Brad Rieger. He’s known for his 31-year career in education—serving as teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and (for 12 years) Sylvania Schools superintendent. Currently, he is CEO of the full-service marketing and advertising firm, Cooper-Smith. He also hosts a podcast called “In the Arena” that focuses on leaders striving to make a difference.
Before all that, however, he played on the University of Toledo’s hugely successful men’s basketball teams of the late 70s/early 80s. It’s there that his behavior in two key relationships triggered years of regret and—ultimately—forgiveness. Let him tell the story:
“During my childhood and young adult years, I had a bumpy relationship with my dad. He had high expectations for me and my three siblings because he wanted us to be prepared for life’s harsh realities. Since I was the oldest and had basketball talent, there was a lot of intensity around my performance on the court. I knew that he loved me, but resented his over-the-top involvement, so I became passive-aggressive with him. In college I froze him out of my major life decisions; I just did things and then told him afterwards. It was hurtful to him.
Only when I became a professional and a family-man with increased responsibilities and challenges did my view of dad change. By my early 30s I realized that the way he pushed in academics and athletics readied me to deal with complicated situations, decisions and leadership roles.
Additional healing to the relationship occurred during dad’s four year-battle with pancreatic cancer. We had late night talks where I learned more about his life story and experienced a softer version of my dad. For his 60th birthday, a year before he died, I wrote him a heartfelt letter expressing gratitude for what he did for me and our family.”
Brad added that he had the same kind of leftover regret about his relationship with his UT coach, the legendary Bobby Nichols. And the same form of reconciliation.
“I was a role player on some very successful UT hoops teams. When my playing career ended, I had a sour taste in my mouth. My relationship with Coach Nichols was distant, and thus I never thanked him properly for giving me the opportunity to receive a top-shelf education and be a part of a highly successful basketball program. How do you not thank someone that gave you a four-year full scholarship?
As my career took-off and I assumed greater leadership roles, I soon realized that being in charge was not easy. It was this realization that dramatically increased my understanding and respect for Coach Nichols and the ethical way he ran his basketball program.
Eleven years after I was done playing at UT, I wrote a letter to Coach Nichols thanking him for bringing me to the University of Toledo. I told him that most of the great opportunities and people that are woven into the fabric of my life can be traced back to my academic and athletic experiences at UT. In that letter I also apologized for not thanking him earlier for the impact he and UT basketball had on my life trajectory. After that, we became close friends, and when he died 20 years later the family asked me to do the eulogy. It was a gift to have a second chance to show my appreciation in full measure.”
Brad admitted, “If there were mulligans in life, I would have used one to write those letters of gratitude much sooner than I did. But I don’t think it could have happened without having my own life experiences. Once I was scuffed-up a little bit, I started to see my dad and coach in a much more positive light.”
So, as we look forward to Valentine’s Day next week, take note of what psychologist Dr. Drescher said, “We shouldn’t forget that forgiveness is about loving yourself…that we have to forgive ourselves before we ask for forgiveness from others.” And thank you to Dr. Rieger for sharing.