When your life doesn’t go as planned, it’s natural to look back with regret. Experiences and time spent seem like a waste when you’re robbed of the opportunity to finish what you started. This may seem particularly true with the end of your marriage.
Regret is common when you’re going through divorce or separation. You might even question whether you would make the same choices knowing what you know now. Thoughts about the past may make you angry because it seems like everything was a big waste of time, or perhaps you feel like you invested poorly in the stock of your life. If you made a poor choice in a partner, or committed to a relationship you knew wasn’t right, the feeling of regret may be even stronger. Wishing you could go back in time and do it all over is normal.
Regret is very closely linked to anger and grief. It’s a natural part of recovering from the end of a marriage, but like anger and grief it can become problematic if left unresolved. There are certain emotions that easily pass through the system, but regret can be an emotional artery clog because, like resentment and shame, it survives in the dark recesses of your own mind. Regret is simply a construct of time because it can happen only when there is something in the past you haven’t been able to resolve in the present. Focusing or fixating on the past with a regretful perspective is toxic and may land you in a state of bitterness that is much harder to undo.
Living with a feeling of regret is often painful and depleting. Energy that could be used for a new life or creating new memories gets drained when the focus is on what could or should have been. When you look forward toward the future, there’s a strong pull to compare it to the past, and when the past gets pulled into the present, it serves as a weight or obstacle that may prevent you from creating the life you are capable of creating.
Here are four tips to release your regret:
1. Make a List
Start by making a list of all your regrets. Get them down on paper so you can clearly see what you’re wishing were different. Some of the items on your list may be valid and connected to a natural grief process, but many will simply represent a resistance to the things you cannot change. You might regret selling your house, not paying more attention to the marriage, or getting married in the first place.
Next, take each regret and write a few brief lines about what would have happened if you hadn’t made that choice or if a particular experience hadn’t happened. How would things be different now? What would be different in the future? Use what you learn to reshape your regret.
2. Find the Silver Lining
Your mind is powerful, and your thoughts will likely be the biggest obstacle to letting go of regret. Replaying old stories and thinking about how things could have been different may keep you rooted in a negative space. When you pay attention to your thoughts, you can catch them and reshape them into something more positive. There is always another scenario that can be played out, so finding the silver lining by taking a bigger perspective may be helpful.
Take the list you made of your regrets and reframe each one into three positive points. For example, if you regret giving up your career for your marriage, a bright side might be that you had time away from work to engage other interests and aspects of your life.
3. Focus on Your Strengths
Regret can lead to a feeling of weakness because it implies that what you need is no longer available to you. Focusing on your present strengths may empower and encourage you to let that go.
Make a list of your personal strengths. You may have to dig deep if you’re feeling like a failure in the current context of your life, but if you sit long enough, you’ll likely come up with a few. Your strengths might be kindness, intelligence, courage, or compassion. Pick one strength and think about how you might use it to help you move forward without regret.
4. Transform and Grow
Regret is a part of your recovery process; after all, there is no way to move forward without reflecting on the past. However, there’s a difference between fixating on what could have been and learning from your choices.
The greatest gift you can give yourself is the wisdom you pull from the choices and experiences you regret. It’s a great opportunity for personal growth and transformation to learn from your mistakes, so turn what didn’t work out into a chance for change.
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andra Brosh, PhD, BCHN, therapist in North Hollywood, California
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