Regrets are never fun.
Some irritate and prick us with hard lessons from the past. But we learn to live through and around them.
Other regrets, though, keep coming to mind in waves of overwhelm and anxiety that can reach toxic levels in our minds and bodies.
If we aren’t careful, the latter type of regret can take over too much of our lives, impacting our self-image and decision-making for years. In fact, regrets can often be so pervasive that, unchecked, they can lead to harmful, inaccurate views of ourselves and crippling depression.
So, Why Are We So Stuck?
For many of us, meaningful losses, missed opportunities, and humbling mistakes make up the bulk of our regrets. Much of our negative self-talk and anxiety is the fallout of regrets run amok.
Toxic regret often speaks negatively to who we believe we are or are meant to be after such disappointment. We feel as though we are too “bad” to reach our potential.
Thus, we assume we’ve no right to happiness or contentment. No matter how sorry we are or how much we have grown, the wrong turns we took in the past (due to our actions or lack of action) we struggle to live with idea that we can never rectify of fully make up for what happened.
That’s often unacceptable to us. Often, we don’t want to believe that an impulsive choice could hurt us or someone else forever. We hate living with the idea that a wrong decision could destroy significant relationships or the life we planned. We get stuck too when we realize that, due to age or death, some situations are final and there will be no more chances to fix an old problem.
Can We Escape the Sense that We Don’t Deserve Relief?
Yes! Acceptance will be key.
1. Accept your choices, your regrets, and your humanity mindfully
2. Accept reality and your responsibility for the ways things stand
3 Accept your right to let go and your freedom
Whether you disappointed yourself or someone else, try to remember that even deep sorrows can be managed, processed, and released. You don’t deserve to suffer indefinitely, regardless of the circumstances. Of course, acceptance is easier said than done.
Key Ways You Can Let Your Regrets Go
Letting go will involve a combination of self-care, reflection, and responsible, fair action toward yourself and others.
1. Grieve your Regrets
Living in toxic regret is refusing to let a painful situation pass away. Don’t hold onto it. Begin letting go by accepting the truth, and processing the pain and disappointment fully. Grieve your losses. Cry, share, feel your feelings and honor your need to move through them. The grieving process is so important and often given short shrift in our culture.
Regret is toxic when it becomes perpetual punishment. Rather than feeling remorseful or disappointed temporarily by your choices, you may make a habit of indulging shame regarding your own mistakes, giving in to blame regarding the resulting betrayal of others, or entertaining defeatist thinking because your choices lead to ongoing trouble.
Beating yourself up is unproductive. Ruminating on the reactions of others or the unfairness of life is unhelpful. Your power lies in your ability to forgive yourself and others.
Essentially, allow that people mess up and the world is imperfect. Accept that being human means we will have to accept that when we get things wrong, forgiveness can restore a healthy relationship with yourself and others. Compassion can soothe your inner suffering, reconnect you, and put the focus back on moving forward.
3. Reframe your Regrets
Look closely at the story you’ve been telling yourself. Are your regrets accurately framed? If you’re having trouble letting go, challenge your thoughts and responses to the past that keeps plaguing you. Ask:
- What did I learn? Perhaps there were growth opportunities you missed.
- Am I being honest regarding fault? Consider that you may be taking responsibility for someone else’s choices.
- Is this all bad? Silver linings deserve attention too.
- How do you know your regret is founded? A lot of regret is assuming how things would have turned out had you taken a different path. You tell yourself stories about what that path would have been, but since you didn’t take it, you don’t really know what the real story would have been. Perhaps your choices weren’t really that bad after all.
Work with a therapist can be particularly helpful here to gain some objectivity and perspective.
4. Embrace your Regret
Perhaps your regret is an important lesson. Hopefully, you can use the feelings created by the regret to make better decisions in the future. Further, your regret might tell you you are a healthy, feelingful human for having regret for hurting a loved one or making a decision that turned out poorly. Kathryn Schulz states, “We need to learn to love the flawed imperfect things that we create. And forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly. It reminds us we can do better.”
When regret has been toxic it’s hard to clear out. It has likely tainted much of your life. To start fresh requires focus on what you can control. Overcome the sense that you are powerless to create change by intentionally choosing emotional freedom and a new future. Don’t procrastinate or give up on yourself.
It’s okay if you find that letting go of toxic regrets isn’t easy on your own. Reach out for support. Please contact me soon for a consultation. Together, we can work on ways you can break the habits of regret holding you back. You can overcome negative self-talk, self-pity, or withdrawal. Let’s work together to reach your goals.
Use regret as a springboard toward helping you live a life more proactive, self-compassionate, authentic, and open to others.