Troy Maxson

Katherine Marshall Woods, Psy.D.
4 min readFeb 14, 2019


Fences: An Influence of Regret

There are times in life when best-laid plans can go awry. Questions such as “What could have been done differently?”and “Could I have said something else to have changed the situation?”(Roese & Summerville, 2005) may come about. In an effort to reduce feelings of disappointment and regret, one may take action and attempt to understand their responsibility for the unsuccessful situation. However, in some instances it is learned that “hopes and expectations may be aspirational rather than experienced” (Chandler, 2010, p. 592). In response, individuals can find it difficult to say goodbye to past unfulfilled dreams, which creates feelings of unresolved, chronic regret. According to Joel and colleagues (2012) it is believed that “chronic or excessive regret can be problematic” (p. 348). Regretful experiences can have a tremendous impact on one’s personal self, one’s family, and social relations alike. Denzel Washington’s portrayal of a middle-aged man’s struggle within the character Troy Maxson illustrates the impact of regret and how this emotion can shape one’s entire world perspective.

“Regret, I began to realize, is delicately and dramatically poised between hope and despair” (Demarco, 2015, p. 55). Munoz-Darde (2016) noted, “in such cases, there is little more to the notion of regret than a preference that the world would be otherwise, and the apprehension that the world is not that way” (p. 780). It “is an unpleasant, counterfactual, self-focused emotion that results from having made an unfavorable choice” (Joel et al., 2012, p. 348). Regret arises “from a comparison between an actual outcome and a better outcome that might have occurred had another option been chosen” (Marcatto & Ferrante, 2008, p. 87). Sadness and hurt ensues, and feelings of disappointment and discomfort remain active. Regret can have a shelf life of a lifetime, where “unalleviated regret is a terrible thing. It is sorrow caused by actions in the past that are beyond one’s power to remedy” (Demarco, 2015 p. 56).

When one has dreams that appear within reach, these great opportunities lost “breeds regret” (Roese & Summerville, 2005, p. 1274). The higher the opportunity and greater the cost if failed, the more severe the regret is felt. When one is committed to a specific end and it does not come to fruition, the loss of the dream can feel unfair and the person can feel victimized. Many times, when this occurs, there is a lack of one person to blame; therefore, targets for the pain must be created. Systems and faceless “others” take the fall for barren hopes and dreams. When the person cannot let go and move forward, ruminating on the pain and regret frequents the thoughts of the injured party.

Although Troy found that his sporting efforts did not yield the success he desired, he continued to possess a desire to live in a just world and obtain what he believed he deserved. For example, within his employment, he recognized that individuals did not gain recognition for their tenure as others did based upon race. “Accordingly, regret persists in precisely those situations in which opportunity for positive action remains high” (Roese & Summerville, 2005, p. 1274). Rather than continue to perform the same job duties until his retirement, Troy became motivated to bring his concerns to the union. Though Troy could not turn the hands of time and become a professional athlete, he could fight in this setting for a fair work environment. Munoz-Darde, (2016) noted that, “failure to achieve the end desired is consistent with continuing to strive to get what one wants. So frustrated desire is a kind of pain which can motivate the continued activity of trying to get” (p. 780). As a result of his continued drive to advocate for change, it fostered him to use his regret in a manner to create a world in which he could exert himself and create a difference. Finally, Troy experienced a victory, felt proud of his efforts; and in turn, found a moment of inner peace.

To read more, find Fences, Chapter 2 in Best Psychology in Film….


Chandler, J. (2010). Women and men as managers: The importance of disappointment.Gender, Work and Organization, 17(5), 590–611.

DeMarco, D. (2015). Too late for regret. Human Life Review, 41(4), 55–60.

Joel, S. MacDonald, G. & Plaks, J.E. (2012). Attachment anxiety uniquely predicts regret proneness in close relationship contexts. Social Psychology and Personality Science, 3(3), 348–355.

Munoz-Darde, V. (2016). Puzzles of regret. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,XCII (3), 778–784.

Marcatto, F. & Ferrante, D. (2008). The regret and disappointment scale: An instrument for assessing regret and disappointment in decision making.Judgment and Decision Making, 3(1), 87–99.

Roese, N.J. & Summerville, A. (2005). What we regret most….and why. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(9), 1273–1285.



Katherine Marshall Woods, Psy.D.

Psychologist/Film Consultant; building scripts to create rich characters and themes; Author of Best Psychology in Film