Do you remember when you were a child, and you thought about who the perfect…
When I look back over my life, there are inevitable areas of regret. Why on earth did I think that dating that person was a good idea? Why didn’t I take those dance classes when I was younger? What if I hadn’t bought that lemon of a car? Over and over again, our minds can slip into the uncomfortable feeling of regret, spoiling our present moment with thoughts of yesterday and the sometimes-overwhelmingly negative feelings that come with them.
To gain perspective, it can be helpful for us to recognize that, essentially, regret is a result of our imagination. We look back on a past event and create a scenario in our mind that basically says that if we had done A, B or C differently, it would have changed the outcome to a more beneficial one. If only I had said something sooner… If only I hadn’t fought with my partner…If only I’d chosen this major in college instead of that one…If only… if only.
The reality is that hindsight is indeed 20/20. When we look backwards, we can often see scenarios with a clarity that would have been impossible before. Most of the time, however, when faced with a decision in real time, we often do not know the best course of action. When we are faced with the decision to act, we make the best decision we can with the information we have available at that moment. Sometimes, the consequences of those decisions are less than ideal, and can lead to regret, guilt and shame.
How to approach regret
The key to dealing with that feeling and keeping ourselves out of the pit of despair that can accompany regret, is to first acknowledge that regret is indeed what we are feeling. As the author John Gray has said, “what you feel, you can heal.” Recognizing that the negative emotion that is coursing through your body and throwing your mind into a tailspin is regret is the first step in getting to the other side of it.
The next step is to accept that you are human and as such we learn through error. It is inevitable that we will make a mistake (or twenty), along the way. Accepting that you may have made the wrong decision, and giving yourself compassion for the pain that it caused is truly helpful in easing the sting of regret.
Forgiving yourself is next. Whatever happened, happened, and there is no scenario in which we get to go back and have a redo, no matter how intensely we wish that it were true. Thus, the only way to let go of what “could have been” is to forgive yourself for what was.
The way forward
The reality is that whatever we experience, whether it feels good or bad, is a learning experience. We learn through our errors. It can really help to look for the silver linings, the lessons learned when we look back at the things we would rather had not happened…but did. What did you learn as a result of that scenario? Have you made different decisions now, based on that past mistake? Will you make a different decision in the future?
Often, when we can judge our past with a clear mind that is not clouded with regret, we can see clearly that the lessons we learned in those moments have led us to better decisions later.
In the end, letting our regrets remain in control of our thoughts can be destructive, but dealing with them, by allowing ourselves to heal from them through acknowledgement, self-compassion, and forgiveness, can create resilience, and ultimately lead us to a happier present and future.
For Further Reading:
Sassy’s Blog is named for the very astute cat of WRC’s Clinical Director and Counselor Kai Qualls, LPC, CCATP. The theme of the Blog is Resilience, which is especially timely given our shared uncertainty during these times. We hope you will enjoy and benefit from Sassy’s Blog, this month written by Clinical Director Kai Qualls, LPC, CCATP.