Last month’s column opened up the subject of dealing with regrets, which soon proved to be a wider topic than could fit through one column’s door.
Regrets are heavy. Feeling guilt, shame, stress, remorse and frustration at ourselves over mistakes we’ve made can really weigh us down. Regrets get especially burdensome when we can’t change a situation and we, or others, have to live with the consequences of it.
Angst over wishing we’d done or not done something can fester and make us feel sick emotionally and sometimes even physically. Unless we find a way to release remorse, our regrets will drain our emotional strength, and stifle our appreciation of the positive aspects of the past, present and future.
Our first step was to start accepting the fact that we won’t be able to get through life without making some mistakes. If we are hard on ourselves, self-criticism over failures (or perceived failures!) can really drag us down and keep us shackled to the past. Remorse can become a form of emotional bondage, hindering us from moving forward into new and improved decisions and situations.
We can’t change what we’ve done or not done in the past but we can change how we think about it. Sometimes we can correct or at least apologize for a mistake. Other times, we can’t.
Thoughts of “would have, could have, should have” can help us see where we went wrong but after we’ve identified that, we have to be very careful not to fall into the pit of berating ourselves for being impulsive, naïve, stupid or whatever other negative names we use in a misguided attempt to keep from making more mistakes.
Instead, humbly accept yourself as an imperfect human being. Turn your thoughts toward applying what you’ve learned instead of becoming stuck in a mire of mucky regret. We can’t travel back in time. We can only move forward, starting from whatever point we are currently at.
Setting a weight of regret down and leaving it behind us lights our way forward. Some people find it helpful to carry out an action of some sort to symbolize releasing a regret.
If something’s been weighing you down, maybe picking up a rock and throwing it into a lake can help create a sense of release and relief. You could also try writing out your regrets, ripping the paper up and throwing it away.
Living free from regrets doesn’t mean we deny or make light of mistakes. It means that we admit them, learn from them, and leave them behind us.
If possible, we apologize and make restorations or changes. Then we stop re-hashing the situations and turn our attention and energy toward something positive.
As Joyce Meyer advises in her book Powerful Thinking, “Your past can be an unbearably heavy load when you try to carry it into your present. The way to let go of it is to stop thinking about it. Get it off of your mind and out of your conversation.”