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Regret is something that everybody experiences to lesser or greater degrees – it’s recognising something that you wished you’d done differently and then feeling sad, disappointed, remorseful or even ashamed. When you feel overwhelmed by these feelings and you don’t process them and learn from the insights gained, you can end up giving yourself a hard time, wearing out your brain with rumination, or doing things to try to ‘fix’ the past, which is the past for a reason – it’s already happened.

Holding onto regret and then doing things off the back of it is like trying to undo what has already be done. You keep forgetting that it’s done but it’s also working off this premise that if you regret A,B,C, you can come up with the remedy X,Y,Z and that this will ‘fix’ what happened and put it back on the right track and cancel out the regrets. I think sometimes, in fact often with regret, we focus on the trees instead of the wood so remedy X,Y,Z may not even be the appropriate or ‘right’ course of action. Then you end regretting that X,Y,Z didn’t generate the desired result so you either try it again (because you’re convinced that it eventually it will be) or you come up with H,I,J and give that a shot.

Now I’m not saying that we don’t do things that in retrospect are not what we would have liked or expected for ourselves. It is understandable to feel sad and upset that weor others haven’t met our hopes and expectations, and when we do wrong, it is the normal and decent thing to feel remorseful, but you know what?

Sometimes the way that we think we can make it right is not the way to make it right. This means that it’s like using a hammer when you need a screwdriver – application of the wrong thinking and mentality.

The regrets you have may be justified but they only tell part of the story if 1) you’re not the only person in the situation, 2) you’re not being realistic and are in fact being too harsh and engaging in excessive blame and punishment, and 3) you haven’t turned that regret into a positive lesson that can be applied into your present and future.

When you struggle to move past regret, you end up doing things in an attempt to either ‘rectify’ the source of regret in that particular situation, or if you can’t do that, you may try to rectify it with another person/situation that presents the same opportunity. This may be why you:

  • Keep returning to the same relationship.
  • Go out with variations of the same person in different packages.
  • Keep trying to tackle the same problems in various situations.
  • Stick with one set of habits that you think are beneficial even if they’re not and then keep trying out other things to ease your regret, the likelihood being that what you try is something not too taxing or something that speaks to unhealthy beliefs and has you seeking validation.
  • May be feeling guilty about doing something that was actually the right thing for the situation (like asserting boundaries) because you’re uncomfortable with the consequences because it takes you out of your comfort zone and now you’re ruminating over what you did and wondering how you could have done things differently or could even go about undoing it. Prime example – apologising even if it’s not you at fault!

The thing is, when you really are learning from the insights gained, you’re not going to go back down the road of making the same mistake again just so you can have the opportunity to ‘put it right’, which is essentially what happens when you try to ‘go back’.
How much regret you experience or more importantly, how much it impacts you and your life, has a hell of lot to do with what your regrets are about, whether the regrets are accumulations of the same regret across various situations spread out over weeks, months, and years, how you feel about you, and how you cope with feeling sad, disappointed, or even remorseful over things that you feel that you’ve done wrong.

Here’s the truth: Everybody fucks up. There’s no plainer way to say it.
Here’s another truth: It’s pretty damn difficult to do something ‘perfectly’ and this is especially more so the case if there is another party involved.

You can literally take anything that you do and find something you want to change about it. I ‘regret’ not getting up ten minutes earlier. It bugged me that I didn’t get to finish typing five labels out for name places at our wedding because my now husband left with the ‘clicker thing’ the night before the wedding and I was even more gutted that we missed the entire canapes session because the photographers totally didn’t listen to us – I nearly ruined my own memories of the experience focusing on these things. It really bugged the hell out of me that I didn’t say certain things, or that I didn’t walk from bad situations. It kept me awake at night, telling people about themselves and punishing me. I had even more regrets when I realised what a complete waste of time and energy that was because I didn’t grow as a person by wallowing in regret and in fact continued to think and behave in the same way.

There are a lot of things that I or you could differently but we cannot go back in time and the danger of trying to practice new awareness on old relationships is that it can show that we may not have gone far enough in the awareness to recognise that doing that may not be the most beneficial to us.

You can keep beating yourself up but you will leave yourself without any self-esteem which means you will not have the strength to improve on your situation, because who the hell feels motivated to feel and do better when they’re persecuting themselves. Let.It.Go. Understand where it comes from, process it, take the positive insights that you can gain from even the most negative of experiences, let the rest go and move into improving your now so that you can also build on this to grow into a better future.