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Healing from regret

Have you ever regretted anything? Maybe something you said, something you did, something you thought? Or something you should have said, should have done or wish you had known about beforehand?

In thinking about this whole area of regret over the years, I’ve come to realize a number of things. Although we feel the emotion of regret in present time, our action or lack of action took place in the past so it has already happened. We can’t change that. But what can we do with that feeling?

If we let it, the feeling can linger and haunt us for our entire lives. I’ve seen that happen. We seem to go through certain thoughts about the incident like, “What if I hadn’t said that?” or “What if I hadn’t done that?” We ask ourselves if our life would be better now. The assumption that it would have been better, whether consciously or unconsciously, only solidifies the feelings of regret and allows them to deepen in intensity.

The “what ifs” can really cause us a lot of stress. And the clincher is that we’ll never really know the results because we cannot change the past. We can only imagine it and that takes time and energy. Instead, we have the option of spending our time and energy in actions that positively affect the regretful feeling that has taken up harbor within us.

If it’s a relationship issue, we can honestly share with the other person how the incident has affected us — “I felt …” And we can apologize for the distancing in the relationship that may have happened as a result, not blaming them or us and possibly expressing a desire to renew the friendship. However, the other person may not want reconciliation and we have to be ready to accept that as a resulting possibility. Then all we can do is say we are sorry this has happened and step back from contact. We need to forgive ourselves for what we didn’t know or understand at the time or forgive the state we were in. And the same goes for forgiving the other person. If we are able to forgive both, the regret lessens and becomes a disappointment or simply a memory.

I have also found that if I can identify something positive that resulted from the incident it helps the regret transition to a disappointment sooner. One positive that may have resulted is that we understand ourselves a little better — our tendencies, weaknesses, effects of our upbringing, whatever. Once I understand, I can learn from it and accept the results more easily. Maybe I sought out another trusted person to share my feelings with and therefore that friendship has deepened. Maybe I have turned to Mother Nature and spent more time feeling her support and beauty infuse my being and give me a new perspective on things. I have learned; I have grown.

I have found that describing the situation in words that I can write down on paper is a valuable tool for healing. Transcribing the emotion and transferring the description to paper allows a bit of the emotion to dissipate. I have put it “out there.” I’m not carrying it as deeply as before. Now I can reread it, maybe still cry over it, but it’s no longer rolling around in my heart or mind in an unending circle that never goes away.

Now that I’ve written about it, I can record my reaction at the time, if there was any, or resulting consequences that have occurred since. I can focus on my feelings. I can ask myself how I felt at the time, where I was in my own life journey. And I can ask myself how I feel about it all now. Have I changed? Am I more confident in myself or less?

But what if the person I have an issue with has passed on? And I feel I didn’t help them as much as I could have or there were underlying issues I never felt got reconciled or even discussed before they passed. What do I do with those regrets?

In the case of the relationship I had with my dad, or lack thereof, I wrote a detailed description of the issues — the feelings I had at the time, how it still was affecting me — in the form of three letters, three very long letters. And this was 20 years after he had passed. I selected an isolated space beside a lake where I could be alone. Once I began, the words just spilled out onto the page. It took me days to finish the letters, but when I was done, I knew I had said it all. Allowing myself to vividly recall those incidents made me realize how deeply I had been carrying all that original hurt.

Spending time at the edge of that lake, engulfed in Mother Nature, was indeed the therapy I needed. Using the healing tool of journaling encouraged the release of all those emotions I had been burying for years. With all of that emotion released, I was given insights into my dad’s life that partially explained why he had been the way he was. He was still accountable for the choices he made but I was able to begin to understand why he chose as he had. And the process of forgiveness began, for him and for me.

One of the positives I have gained from it all is being able to further understand how our past can affect our dealings in the present. We truly see our reality through the lens of our past experiences. Recalling the negatives in our past doesn’t really help us unless we are ready to allow that recall to kick-start the healing process, remembering that it can be a painful process yet so rewarding in its finality.

Mother Nature can be the therapy we need to more positively live our lives. Let’s not forget about her. She is always there.

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Debby Havas is a mindfulness writer and author living in Jay. Her writings describe the healing energies she has experienced in Mother Nature.

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