It has been scientifically proven that we are more likely to regret the things we didn’t do as opposed to regretting the things we did do. However, many would agree that they would rather regret not having children than feel remorse over having them. More and more parents are coming forward and admitting having kids was a mistake. Last week, I interviewed a woman who told me she will always love her children but would much rather live without that bond than live with the regret she feels.
It is only human to both feel regret and hate regret. But, regret in itself can be useful. This emotion helps us to gain insight and understanding. It also helps us hone our future decision-making skills. Rumination, however, is never useful.
So just how can we overcome regret, even over major life-changing decisions? Follow these five simple ways:
I can’t say I necessarily pride myself on this ability but I have always been in tune with my need to grieve. I’ve also been to known to say I love crying. Before you write me off as mad, remember that crying is actually healthy.
Emotional tears have special health benefits. Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, whereas emotional tears also contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.”
– Judith Judith Orloff MD, “The Health Benefits of Tears“
Whenever I’m in a situation where I have to choke back my tears, you better believe I’ll let them lose later. Crying alone or beside one other person is recommended as embarrassment can set in when crying in front of too many people. If you’re upset over something you regret, you have my permission to get out those Kleenex, muster up a good cry face a la Kim Kardashian, and wail away. My pillows have seen many a tear and I think I am mentally healthier for it.
Talk About It
Taboos are broken by communication. Admitting you wish you were on a different life course than the one you’re currently on may not be popular fodder, but it could be. Many are so terrified of being judged that they will forever fester internally. Whole generations have lived and died without ever being true to themselves, without ever discussing their problems.
Now I’m not saying you need to invite your mail man to Starbucks and start spilling all of your regrets, no, but you do need to talk to someone. Your spouse, a therapist, an online forum – there are many mediums to take advantage of. I personally have found much comfort in speaking openly and honestly with a close friend. This particular friend and I have known each other since we were very young but only fairly recently started spilling the inner workings of our minds. At some point I suppose we started thinking, What’s the point of having real friends if you can’t have real conversations?
Talking openly with someone about your regrets may naturally lead you to the path of forgiveness. We as people have the incredible gift of seeing the good in others and the terrible curse of seeing the worst in ourselves.
I was recently in a car accident in which I was at fault. I was incredibly angry with myself. Why did I miss that turn? Why couldn’t I have just taken the other route? Why did I rely on my side mirror? How could I have done this? And so on and so on. I felt such guilt and regret but after a good long cry and a heartfelt conversation with my husband, I recognized the need to forgive myself. Just why is forgiveness so vital?
Mind affects body in a zillion interconnecting ways, and those guilty feelings you’re nurturing are generating chemicals that are headed straight for your vital organs. They increase your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, disrupt your digestion, tense your muscles, dump cholesterol into your bloodstream, and reduce your ability to think straight. And every time you remember what you did and wince, those bad feelings give you a fresh hit of corrosive chemicals.
– Ellen Michaud, “12 Ways To Forgive Yourself—No Matter What You’ve Done“
Forgive yourself, even if you only do so for the sake of your health. I recommend reading Michaud’s article in its entirety for detailed strategies on getting past personal resentment.
Que Sera, Sera
After following these steps, you will have hopefully forgiven yourself. Remember though, forgiveness and forgetting are not automatically linked. In order to both forgive yourself and move on, we have to avoid getting stuck. In Melanie Greenberg’s article The Psychology of Regret, she warns, “If you get stuck blaming yourself and regretting past actions, this could turn into depression and damage your self-esteem.” This is precisely what we’re trying to avoid.
Feeling regret or guilt over decisions you’ve made is okay but it doesn’t mean you should unpack and live there. Instead of staying trapped in the pangs of regret, we should look to embrace our current situation, whatever it may be, and let go of what cannot be changed. Whatever will be, will be. Whatever was, was.
The Positivity List
As a person who struggles with anxiety, I’m prone to getting stuck in ruts of self-loathing, especially when I’ve made regrettable decisions. I try to recognize when I’m ankle-deep in this place so drudging my way out will be easier.
Ruminators ruminate, right? While it’s best to change this pattern of thinking, it’s my belief that if you’re going to dwell, you’ve got to at least do it right. And to do it right, you’ve got to dwell in a more positive way. How?
Get out a piece of paper and a pen. Label the top of your page with the choice you regret making. Underneath, write the title “Positive Outcomes”.
It is far easier to come up with the negative results of your choice and no doubt you are already calling them to mind, which is exactly why we’re not going to write those down. I want you to only focus on the positives that came from your regrettable decision.
As an example, one of my biggest regrets is purchasing our fixer-upper home. However, I’ve experienced many positive outcomes from this choice. I learned how to garden and decorate. My dogs get to experience the joy of a front and back yard daily. I have the space to scrapbook, practice calligraphy, and explore many other hobbies.
Once you start thinking about the positives, you may be surprised how easily you start filling up the page. This visual aid proves how even our worst decisions have silver linings.
What are your go to ways to overcome regret? Comment below and let me know!