What was the last thing you did that you truly regret? No matter the size or severity, just something you did (or didn't do) that you remember regretting. Do you still carry it around? Does it pop into your mind often? Do you think it still affects your life?
If so, it likely feels like this heavy weight you can't seem to let go of. It happens to everyone, none of us are free from regret, but we all do have the opportunity to free ourselves from it.
When we do something we regret, it's incredibly common for us to become stuck in those thoughts. They loom over us, making us feel terrible, even if what we did didn't hurt anybody but ourselves.
We beat ourselves up over making a mistake. Maybe it was a simple choice gone wrong, or maybe it was a catastrophic event that tore a rift between you and someone else. No matter the size of the regret, it latches onto our consciousness and leeches off our self-worth.
Finding A Path
It can sometimes feel like you'll never be able to escape those feelings, that you'll never unshackle yourself from this heavy burden, but you can. There are methods you can use that will help release that tight grip regret has on you.
Beth Kurland, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author with an expertise in mindfulness. She wrote out six different ways you can try to shake yourself loose from the regret that binds you, allowing yourself to truly be free once again.
1. Calm Your Nervous System
Kurland describes being stuck in regret as the constant triggering of an internal threat response. Our bodies are tense all the time, wracked with stress, it's a constant sensation of feeling like we're under attack.
There are a number of ways you can go about calming your nervous system down, but no matter which you choose, it's an important first step. You can try breathwork, meditation, yoga, your preferred grounding techniques, whatever gets you to slow down and return to a safer, softer state of your body.
2. Find The Lesson Within
Rather than being so focused on the mistake you made and whatever it potentially ruined (or whatever you think it ruined), focus instead on what lesson can be learned from this misstep. Focusing solely on the past won't get you anywhere productive, you have to take this experience and bring it with you into the future in a way that's helpful.
How can this guide you? How can it change the way you approach similar situations if one ever comes up again? You've already experience the negative consequence here, carrying it with you won't change anything.
3. Take Action
Maybe this regret is still fresh. Or maybe it's old, but remains present. Is there something you can do to resolve things? This one isn't always a guarantee, but if there's a way you can make amends or repair what you broke, what's stopping you? Fear? Nervousness? If you're looking to help, chances are you can't make things worse.
So send that apology, fix what you broke, reach out to those who were harmed. Even if you're not forgiven, you can rest a little easier knowing that you tried.
4. Be Compassionate Toward Yourself
This one might be the hardest step on the list, and Kurland recognizes this too. As she writes, "[Self-compassion] is essential for healing from regret. Sometimes we think that beating ourselves up will somehow keep us in line and prevent us from messing up again, but it rarely works that way. Instead, it just makes us feel miserable and stuck."
She asks you to think of a dear friend being in the same situation you're in. How would you treat them? What would you advise? Surely you'd be more gentle than you're being to yourself right now. Treat yourself the way you would that friend. You're just as worthy of it.
5. Be Mindful
Mindfulness is a general practice that asks us to be more aware of our thought patterns. Once we see how those patterns affect our actions, our self-esteem, and our worldview, we can identify problem areas and turn them around.
So, start being very vigilant of your own guilt-centered thoughts. See the way they impact your life now, even once you're out of the regretful situation. Once you see which parts are dragging you down, you can tackle them one by one until you find yourself loosened from this burden.
6. Work Through It Ahead Of Time
As mentioned, there's nothing you can do to fix the situation that already happened. That's in the past now. What you can do to help calm the nerves of a repeat scenario is work through similar situations ahead of time.
This is similar to finding the lesson, but this time, you're anticipating where this style of regret could crop back up and preparing your reaction now. It helps act on those anxious thoughts while also doing something constructive. Just don't get too caught up in this, though. With each new preparation, let some of that guilt go.
The Uphill Battle
Working through a feeling like regret, guilt, or remorse is never easy. It takes a lot of work. It always feels simpler to just sink into the throws of despair, but that will only cause your life to move backwards or remain stagnant. There's no growth to be had in the depths of regret.
You need to want to rise above this. You need to want better for yourself. You need to see how sick you are of dragging yourself through this rut and step outside of it. There's a whole world out there.
This free quiz will help you identify the roots of your trauma. Once identified, you can begin working on these particular instances and grow beyond them. A new life free from these burdens awaits you, step into it today.