Regret can sometimes seem like an animal on our backs, but there are ways we can tame it. Here are five practical tips for dealing with regret when it threatens to get the best of us.
Face Your Fear
Don’t be afraid to look squarely at your regrets and get to know them a bit. What are they about? Are they mistakes you made? Do they involve paths that you wished you had taken, but never took? Do you have any grievances against others?
Holding a grudges toward someone who has wronged you? Sometimes it helps to journal about these things. Perhaps talking about your irritations with a trusted friend or therapist is the answer, especially in those times when your regrets concern a major breakup, the termination of a job, or the death of a family member. There is no shame in finding a companion who will help us get to know our regrets, and the sometimes visceral emotions and impulses they elicit in us.
Learn the Lessons
Welcome the lessons that may be revealed to you. You know that interaction with your boss that made him so angry? Was there something you could have done differently? If so, what was it? How might you respond differently in the future? What do you need to do in order to make the change(s)?
Equally important to ask is this: what was not yours to own? If your boss blew up at you over a seemingly small issue, you do not need to be responsible for his own problems with anger management. How might you clarify your boundaries in future interactions so you don’t find yourself in similar, dysfunctional situations?
Sit with the feelings and sensations that come with the regret so that you are then able to release these feelings. Repression won’t help us with our regrets. If the regret causes sadness or anger, we need to feel these things. In feeling them, and not being afraid to feel them, we are then able to release them.
We actually cause worse problems for ourselves when we try to stuff the feelings, or pretend that they are not there. I don’t know who originally said this, but a friend passed it on and I think it’s true: “We cause more problems for ourselves and others when we try to escape our pain rather than feel it.”
Many of us have picked up the wrong message that feelings of anger or sadness are “negative,” and that we need to get rid of them in some way so that we are inclined to judge ourselves for feeling these things. If you can, let that judgment go. Feelings are never “wrong” or “right.” What we do with our feelings and how we learn from them is the important thing. Sometimes the feelings of anger or sadness can be so strong that we feel out of control. In times like these, it can help to let ourselves feel these emotions when we are in the presence of another trusted person.
Almost always, our regrets contain at least one person whom we need to forgive. Often we are that person. Other times, we are holding someone else accountable…and often rightfully so.
But before we can forgive, we need to have the courage to name the wrong done to us and how we were hurt. If we are not able to do this in a safe way with the person who wronged us, we need to find an alternative way to acknowledge the wrong, and process feelings around it, so that we can gradually move towards forgiveness. In other words, don’t forgive too soon (which is why forgiveness is step four and not step one)!
Live in Joy
Thank God, the Universe, or whatever higher power you like for your regret and give it back in praise and thanksgiving. This is not to say that we should ask for more things to regret, but give thanks for the things that teach by using regret. Nobody else harbors the same, exact regrets you do. They are yours only. As such, they are part of YOUR unique story — one that you will likely look back on in awe and amazement!
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