How do you define regret? Are they things you would take back, things you would do differently? Perhaps you regret things you didn’t do as opposed to those you did. What constitutes regret for you? Does an incident have to create a certain amount of damage in order for you to regret it? Does it have to have repercussions for more than one person? Or do you look at regret as something you think of with a certain frequency and/or duration? We all have different regrets, because we all have different ideas of what makes an impact, and our personal sense of responsibility. You may be someone who doesn’t dwell on regrets, or someone who replays past mishaps over and over again. You may be somewhere in between.
After almost two years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all of us have had to face unmet goals and dreams. This is especially true if you have dealt with a loss of any kind; a loved one, housing, or employment. The depth of the regrets you feel may have gotten heavier and more complicated over the course of the pandemic, perhaps to levels you had never experienced before. You may find yourself struggling to move past your regrets; you are fixated on them whether you want to be or not. You spend a lot of time feeling regretful, to the point that it has become a habit. You might not even be aware of how much time you spend thinking about the past. Unfortunately, being in this head space is not good for your health and happiness.
How are you coping with COVID? Do you feel stressed or overwhelemd? Individual therapy for anxiety treatment with our CBT therapists can teach you the right coping skills to better manage your emotions.
3 Reasons Living With Unresolved Regrets Is Bad For You
1.Regrets can feed into depression:
After a while, if you spend too much time thinking over your past mistakes, your sense of mental wellness will begin to decline. Fixating on what you can’t change is akin to going in circles while hoping to find an exit – your anxiety builds and the solution never appears, leaving you despondent. This sort of negative view of yourself begins to take over as you start to define yourself by your past mistakes. Because we cannot change the past, the most effective use for it is to learn from it as we stay present and mindful. When we are mired in the past, we are bringing those woes with us into our current existence, as well as our future, without any hope of making them productive and/or beneficial.
2.Regrets can keep you stuck:
The more you focus on something, the bigger it will seem. Focusing on regrets and past mistakes will quickly have you convinced that they are the only thing you do or have done. This can lead to more fear of failure, rejection, or abandonment, as you begin to assume outcomes similar to those at the forefront of your mind. The idea that you “can’t do anything right” can eat away your confidence and self-trust; approaching life in this state of mind is a surefire way to achieve a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most of our big moves in life come from having confidence, not only in ourselves but in our ability to get back up if things don’t go the way we planned. Our self-trust is founded on the same notion: we can listen to ourselves, take the appropriate action, and handle whatever the outcome is, even if it isn’t ideal.
When we are afraid to try new things, we operate from a place of avoiding pain rather than pursuing pleasure. This shrinks our lives and breeds resentment that we aren’t able to experience the thrills of trying new things, goal achievement, and discovering our passions. It is impossible to experience a life of happiness if our only goal is to do the bare minimum required to avoid fear, pain, or anxiety.
3.You mistakenly thought that you could avoid having any regrets:
We have all heard the saying, “You live once” (or “YOLO”). While it is true that we should take risks in life and be authentic in the things we pursue, we also have to accept that in life, we are going to experience regrets. However, most of us falsely believe that if we live authentically, we won’t have any regrets. This can make it harder to accept when, unexpectedly, you find yourself regretting certain things. Not only are we unprepared to process the emotions that come with the experience, but we then find ourselves re-thinking our entire way of life. Acceptance must be achieved to deal with any sort of setback. If we’ve spent our lives thinking we won’t ever have to unpack regret, we may spend too much time in denial or angrily questioning, “Why me?” when we encounter something we wish we could change. This prevents us from processing it, learning from it, and moving forward.
The kind of regret you are processing can vary. There are many different examples of regret: not holding the door for the person going into the store behind you; losing your temper in a conversation with a loved one; not expressing your love for someone who has moved on or passed away; being short with the cashier at the store because you were having a bad day; saying “yes” or “no” to something when you wanted to do the opposite. Depending on what is going on in your life, you may dwell on any regret, whether it is seemingly big or small. You may use it as an example of what you think is wrong with yourself or with your life. You may count it as a major turning point in a series of events. You may wonder what would have happened if you had chosen a different path; this sort of deep regret can not only cause grief but paint your idea of the future with grief as well. Because carrying this sort of emotional burden can be so debilitating, it is important to take steps to move forward from past regret.
3 Ways To Move On From Regrets
1. Forgive yourself (or others) involved in the regret:
Forgiveness is how we free ourselves from pain and anger. I know that it can sometimes feel impossible to think of forgiving, but it is one of the most beneficial things to do when processing an unfortunate situation. The issue of forgiveness has two sides: forgiving others or forgiving ourselves. Depending on what happened, we typically find a way to forgive others for their actions (or inactions). We may struggle to do the same for ourselves, carrying our guilt around with us as punishment; in most situations, we are harder on ourselves than we are on others. When it comes to regrets, some of them may be tied to important values, thus making them harder to come to terms with. What we regret says a lot about us – but our regrets do not define us. If you regret the way you spoke to someone, that means that you know better and are a more considerate person than you displayed with your behavior.
Write down your regrets, no matter how big or how small. Identify the judgmental and self-critical thoughts you have in response to regret. Where did these actions or behaviors come from? This is not an exercise of making excuses for yourself, but rather one where you can help explain to yourself where something may have been coming from so that you can do better in the future.
Are there some mistakes that happened that make sense for the situation and are not a pattern? How can you learn and grow throughout the situation so that you can love and trust yourself again?
Are you still having trouble letting go of your guilt? You may want to make amends (if appropriate) where it wouldn’t harm the other person to do so. The next step is to imagine someone you love is having these thoughts. How would you respond to them? How would you soothe them or help them move through it? Now say these helpful thoughts to yourself to move towards closure. Be compassionate towards yourself. You deserve the kind of love, care, and forgiveness that you are willing to give to others.
If you are struggling with guilt and shame and desperately need to learn ways to forgive yourself, individual therapy with our clinicians in our Woodland Hills, CA office or online anywhere in California can help.
2. Focus on what you can control:
Forgiving yourself and focusing on what you can control will help you practice flexibility and adaptability. By focusing on what you can control, you will start to feel more empowered, confident, and hopeful. We have a tendency to ruminate when we are upset, amalgamating several mishaps into a bank of despair. Amongst those woes will be regrets of actions we had control over and those we did not. Making a point to separate out what we were not, are not, and will not be in control of will allow us to work through our emotions effectively. Sometimes, it can be difficult to accept what we can’t control; we don’t like feeling powerless or the sense that our lives are subject to random changes of luck or fate. These “accidents of fate” can leave us feeling a sense of hopelessness; we might wonder, “why should I bother?” if bad things will still happen? It can be depressing and distressing to come to terms with the ability of a small change to derail our plans, but with mindfulness, we can work to be in a better headspace about it.
If you have a tendency to feel that nothing is in your control or are on the opposite end of the scale and want to believe that everything is, you may want to take some time to sit, consider your life as a whole, and make a list. As you get going and become used to accepting what you have control of at the moment, this won’t be as necessary. But to begin, consider everything that happens in your typical day, and find the things you are in control of. Setting your alarm for the right time, making your meals, dressing appropriately, having gas in the car, etc. Consider what you want to have more control of your responses to incidents, your emotions, your time, and so on. You will become better at identifying what you can truly control (and confident in your ability to do so), making it easier to let go of things that aren’t up to you and take responsibility for what is.
3. Turn the regret into a lesson:
Believe in your capacity to grow from all of your experiences, including your regrets. Sometimes, it can feel almost impossible to imagine finding the good in our regrets, but we can. We can learn from the things that we regret that we had control over, such as actions we took or didn’t take things we said or didn’t tendsay, or choices we made in bad faith.
A regret many people mention is missing an opportunity to communicate their love and affection for someone before that person passed away. Part of the lesson you learn from this situation is that there is nothing you can do to change your regret; that is what motivates you to be more forthcoming in the future. It is a bittersweet lesson to take away. Not all of the lessons you learn will make you feel “healed” from the regret you felt, but they will ease some of your pain by preventing you from making the same mistake again.
When you analyze your regrets to learn from them, consider several factors. Did you have control of this event? If yes, can you see how you would avoid repeating it in the future? How about regrets that are part of a pattern, such as not speaking up for yourself. What changes can you make now to improve your situation later? How can your knowledge help you in the future and help others?
It is impossible to go through life without accruing some big and small regrets. When you are deep in feelings of guilt or shame regarding your past, it can be challenging to remember that human beings are flawed and that all life is a learning process. Our thoughts become our feelings, which become our actions. This means that if we can change our thoughts, we can change our impact on the world. In taking responsibility for our past selves, we can grow and improve as people in our present lives and contribute to a better future. It is not how many mistakes you have made that define what you are bringing to your life, but how you can learn from them. You cannot change the past. All you can do is take action to be mindful of the present to do better in the future. Meet your regrets head-on and take responsibility for what you can control. Use these lessons to improve your self-knowledge and move forward with confidence and peace of mind.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.