How To Put Regret Aside And Move Forward With Hope
We’ve all done things we regret. Maybe it was that third piece of chocolate pie on New Year’s Eve, or that time when you drank too much at a friend’s party. Maybe it was words spoken in anger, a physical altercation, or criminal activity (whether you were caught or not.) Whether your regrets are big or small, we’ll all experience the shame and guilt that comes with the mistakes we’ve made in the past. It’s part of being a human.
In the words of psychologist Shawn M. Burn: “regret can reduce life satisfaction and have negative mental health outcomes. Alternatively, regret can be a source of growth and better decision-making.” This year has been especially hard on a lot of people – virtually no one on this earth has been untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s good odds that we all regret at least something that we’ve done this year. But that doesn’t mean we have to carry that shame around with us as we go into 2021. Let’s take a look at some of the ways we can work through those experiences and move forward having learned from them.
Try To Make Amends
If the actions that you regret ended up hurting someone else, it’s a good idea to apologize to them and try to make amends. While this sounds like a no-brainer, it’s extremely important. Never underestimate the power of a sincere apology! It shows the person wronged that you care enough about them and the relationship to take responsibility for your words or actions, even though it can be scary and hard. Ask them what you can do to right the wrong. Examples might include changing your behavior, helping repair something that was broken, or offering financial assistance.
Apologizing takes courage and humility, and practicing those traits helps you just as much as it helps the person you’re apologizing to. Even if that person refuses to accept your apology, you can walk away knowing that you’ve done everything you can, and that leads to peace.
Easier said than done, right? In a lot of cases, the hardest thing is forgiving yourself. Now, when we say ‘forgive yourself,’ we don’t mean that you shouldn’t take responsibility for your actions. It’s important to do the hard work of apologizing and making restitution. But remember, you’re a person too, and that means that you’re deserving of compassion, respect, and understanding. Don’t judge your past self by your current standards. Present you has had more life experience and is looking back with the benefit of more context and better information. If you truly did the best you could with what you had, then give yourself a break. And if you made a stupid decision, then take a look at the behaviors and feelings that led you to that place. Analyze them and make a game plan for correcting those behaviors. And then, give yourself a break! You’re an imperfect person – and that’s okay.
This step can be tough, and it’s important to reach out to trusted family members, friends, and professionals if you feel like you need help. It will be worth the struggle to find the peace that comes from healthy self-forgiveness.
Take A Look At Your Thinking Patterns
When we look back on things that we regret, a lot of us are prone to what’s called counterfactual thinking. Basically, counterfactual thinking is when you create a narrative about what ‘could have been’ if you had only made a different decision. Often, we tend to dwell on these narratives at the expense of the real life we’re living now. It’s important to recognize these fantasies for what they are so that you can pull yourself away from dwelling on them and find happiness and purpose in the present.
As Dr. Burn so eloquently says: “Remind yourself that your fantasy version of your perfect alternative life is probably just that—a fantasy. No life or person is perfect. Relationships are challenging. Financial setbacks happen. Mistakes will be made. Different choices would likely have brought different regrets. Count your blessings and learn your lessons, and identify and give yourself credit for the things you did right.”
At Capitol Counseling, we hope that you can enjoy this new year and that happiness, peace, and stability can come easier for all of us. If you would like to schedule an appointment with us, please reach out by giving us a call at 307-631-5574.