Mask # 2: Grief and Regret In a Series on the Many Masks of Self-Pity

by Gary on December 19, 2013 in


woman in grief for home pageWe’re examining how self-pity destroys our poise and causes us to live a life half-crazy.

Because our self-pity isn’t personally or socially attractive, we have developed masks to disguise it.  The first post in this series was Mask # 1: Righteous Anger, which exposed explosive, angry emotion, resentment, irritation, and impatience as a family of weaknesses that create bad explanations, shrink our powers, and leave us writhing inside our own egos.

Mask # 2: grief and regret

Grief and regret are emotional rejections of something that has happened. They are a state of consciousness that—prolonged beyond the initial experience- becomes self-pity and victimhood.

When we feel grief or regret, we shrink up, blaming others, life, God, or something outside ourselves.  Or we feel that life is hard, too hard to bear.

Full of pain, we drag our pain bodies around, as Eckhart Tolle says, infecting every precious new moment with our angst.  Grieving or regretting, we live in the past.  Now we are actually insensitive, numb, off course, our love rarely available to us—no matter how we defend the self-absorption we like to call “being human.”

Grief and regret are—like righteous anger—default responses to challenges.

Indulging in grief and regret, we cannot sustain our poise”

v     We cannot be present, a main tenet of a poised consciousness. We are obsessed with what has happened, reliving in our thoughts over and over what has been lost.

v     We cannot feel connected.  Grieving and regretting, we have lost our connection to others and, even worse perhaps, we have lost connection with ourselves.  We don’t like our life right now, and may even wish we were dead in order to escape our pain.

v     Obviously we don’t feel grateful, a requirement for sustained poise.  Just the opposite—we feel that our cups are empty.

v     Poise uses creativity for fuel, but creativity evaporates when we grieve and regret.

Poised, we respond to challenges with improvisation but, grieving and regretting, we are simply numb.

v     Needless to say that we don’t feel light-hearted.  We are heavy and earnest in our response to whatever has been lost.

Grief and regret make it difficult or impossible to have our love at our disposal.  If our love is flowing, we are poised.  Instead, we have little to give right now.

Grief and regret are bad explanations for what is going on.

An example: a woman’s husband leaves her for another woman.  Surprised and stunned, she is overwhelmed with grief and regret.  She grieves the loss of her 25 year marriage, and she regrets that she is now alone, that their wealth is about to be divided up, and that she will have to navigate her life alone. She is fearful and cries often.

She tells her friends this bad explanation for what has happened:

v     John has abandoned me after I gave him 25 years of my life

v     John is an unfaithful, unreliable man who has profoundly disappointed me

v     I have been a faithful wife and mother, and I also provided most of our financial support for the last few years when John seemed unable or unwilling to work

v     I am deeply wounded by John, who frequently expressed his unhappiness with me, my sexual unresponsiveness, and my inability to create the relationship he wanted.

v     I am filled with grief and regret. I can’t sleep.  I can barely move.

She has lost her poise, obviously, but why is this a “bad explanation” for her grief and regret?

Hers is a bad explanation  because she doesn’t take responsibility for the life she has created.  If she did take creative responsibility, she would report to her friends a good explanation for what happened:

v     John and I failed to create a marriage that we both wanted and John has had the courage to try to find what he needs.

v     I have been roiling in self-pity and cooking up victim stories that I know are not true.

v     I knew that I haven’t met John’s sexual and emotional needs for some time, but I wasn’t able or willing to change.

v     I know it looks like John left me, but, actually, I pushed him out of our marriage because it wasn’t working for me either.  I took the easy way out by not divorcing John.  I set it up so he would be the bad guy who leaves his virtuous wife.

v     Everything is perfect. We both needed a big change, and John, braver than me,  took the lead.  I wish him good journey.  Now we both have a chance to find the love we want in a marriage.

v     All I have are my challenges and my decisions.  This situation is plenty challenging; I’ve been asleep in our marriage.  Now I’m awake and I am about to decide what I will create in the next stage of my life.

Grief and regret when a loved one dies

afgan sorrow h ead in handsThe ordinary person, again, believes that grieving and regret prove our humanity, our virtue, our love.

But they don’t.  Instead, they prove that we will reject life if it doesn’t align with our ego’s desires.  Our ego does not like losing anything it deems valuable.  The ego lives a small life,  protecting its fragile, false construct.

Everything in nature dies eventually. We will all die.  If we really know this energetic fact, we know that all of our loved ones will die.  With a keen awareness that death is always hovering in the background, we are awake, alert, humble, and grateful to have in our lives the people we love.

Awake, our love flows to our loved ones every day, every moment. But if we don ‘t know about death, we will be in shock when someone we love dies.  We will recoil, rejecting death as an inevitable outcome to every life.

The ego will invent a bad explanation for what has just happened.  Full of self-pity, the ego cries out in pain, and then creates this bad explanation for what has happened:

v     My loved one should not have died—not now.

v     I have been hit with an unbearable loss

v     My grief  proves how much I loved her

v     I haven’t done anything to deserve this loss and pain

Overcome with regret and grief, our poise shattered, we cannot be present, connected, grateful, creative or light-hearted.

And we don’t think we should be poised.  We think we should sustain grief and regret.

Sustaining our poise when a loved one dies

If we can sustain our poise at the death of a loved one, we will be able to be present, connected, grateful, creative and light-hearted.

We will have a good explanation for what has happened:

v     A wonderful person in my life has died, and I am feel very sad right now about my loss..

v     I have a treasury of good memories about our shared time together.

v     Naturally, my loved one’s death has prompted a recapitulation of our relationship. Perhaps I could have shown my love more consistently, but mostly my loved one felt loved by me.

v     I miss my loved one and think about her a great deal.

v     This death has been a gift, in a way: I am reminded how short and precious life is.

I have no time to waste.

Next in the series on the masks of self-pity: Mask # 3 Cynicism and Negativity


by Gary on December 19, 2013 in


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  1. thank you for this series. as I read it’s easy to see that my default is set at self pity (at times). How automatic it is to feel sorry for myself. Not cool! It’s getting easier to admit and it’s a daily effort to reset my default disposition to Poise – a perfect word you’ve coined. All encompassing. I’m faced with a holiday visit from a family member that is going to be a challenge for me to practice compassion and unconditional love. Poise is my objective and how fortunate these lessons arrive now. I appreciate the inspiring messages.

  2. Abundant food for thought. I particularly concur with the points raised in, ” Sustaining our poise when a loved one dies”.

    It’s indeed a matter of approaching the loss with a broad response:- a matter of “giving thanks for the life of…” rather than seeing the world plunged into gloom.

    1. Philip, You make a wonderful point about giving thanks for the life of…., rather than the default and more common response of self-pity.

      I was interviewed on a radio show about grief of loved ones last year. The host had lost a child when he was only 8 years old. Her experience with grief was the common one, but now–many years later–she agreed that we can only give thanks, as you say. But she argued that most people are not conscious enough to avoid self-pity and the usual extended grief at the death of a child. She said that most people who lose a child grieve for several years, and some never get over it.

      Our response to the death of a loved one will be dictated by our consciousness, so let’s be conscious and love and appreciate our family and friends while we have a chance. Gary

  3. I am not sure that regret is a totally bad mental state as long the feeling is short in time and you learn from the situation that causes one to feel regret. There are things that I have said or done to people that I regret. Offering an apology and learning from those incidents can increase one’s poise. Most humans are flawed in some way. Some more than others. The poised person would recognize their flaws and attempt to delete them from their life. For example, I speak at times in a loud voice and tone that irritates my spouse. She has pointed this out to me for many years. My tone of voice has caused her to be irritated with me at times. I have attempted to change my tone for many years and I have not rid myself of the negative tone of voice. I regret that I have not been able to totally change this communication flaw but I will still work on it. I do not feel sorry for myself or feel like a victim. I do feel the need to improve my vocal tone, since tone and body language are far more important than the actual words one uses in communication. I do think that people who think like the lawyer in your example do feel like victims and thus are not poised. It is quite child like to blame other people and the world for a persons feeling like a victim. I have met several people who act exactly like the lawyer and it is difficult to be around those negative thinking people. Would pointing out their behavior be a useful endeavor?

    1. Scott, Remember my quoting an ancient master of awareness in a former post, who said, “Tell no man what you think of him”?

      I’ve often been the pointer outer–with few good affects that I can remember.

      Giving anybody feedback about lost poise requires a pretty intimate relationship, I think. Even then, the other person probably has to want the feedback. One way to go with someone close is to ask, “Would you like some feedback about something I think is holding you back?”

      About regret: your point is compelling. You’ve made me realize that we all have regrets and that regret is a necessary first step in my learning process.

      So, let’s say that I realize that I have made a mistake. Now I realize my mistake and regret it terribly.
      The most poised approach is to own up. Yup, I made a mistake. Now I must recapitulate the entire awful situation. It’s painful, but I have to move past regret to a profound remembering of everything that happened. That’s the recapitulation.

      I see how I behaved, how I was feeling, what I was trying to do, how I missed the right path, how my ego was clouding my clarity, how my behavior might have been part of a pattern of mistakes I have made.

      To avoid making this mistake again, I have to gain new knowledge about myself, about life, about the truth. I must create a good explanation to replace my bad explanation that caused my misbehavior in the first place.

      The warrior is at war with his or her weaknesses.

      So, yes, regret is necessary as a first step in learning. But we have to move into the painful learning as the next step toward freedom. If we stay in regret, we haven’t yet done the work of gaining new knowledge.

      Thanks for your valuable insight, Scott. Gary

  4. Rock on, Gary! This is a very practical overview that I can really appreciate. Some articles about handling issues such as this are vague and confusing. I like how you listed specific examples of typical stories people tell, and then the poised stories they should tell. Thanks!