Dealing with Regret and How It Relates to Complex PTSD

Dealing with regret and how it can haunt you; it can make you miserable, it can keep you locked in the past, and, simultaneously, project itself into the future in an attempt to make up for the past.

Regret—in essence—is the insistence on wanting what happened to be different from what it actually was. It is this dissonance between two states of mind—what was, and what you wanted it to be—that perpetuates your internal conflict.

In turn, out of that dissonance, you might project into the future to attempt to make up for the past out of compromise, which will never lead to any meaningful fulfillment.

Dealing with Regret, Comparison, and Psychological Time

In brief, the voice of regret as your own thoughts can be worded as; “If only .....<<fill in the blanks>>,” or “Why did or didn’t I …..<<fill in the blanks>>.”

Regret—in essence—is the insistence on wanting what happened to be different from what it actually was. It is this dissonance between two states of mind—what was, and what you wanted it to be—that perpetuates your internal conflict.

It might be a conscious process or not, but the sting of regret is comparison. It is the comparison made by your current self who sees with a rational mind and without the strain of emotional stress, pitted against what actually happened when you were under duress.

The gap of dissonance and the pain of regret become more obvious when your adult rational self puts up a fight with your more emotionally wired child self.

Dealing with Regret and The Struggle Between the Different Parts of You

It becomes more obvious because your child self-- who was emotionally overwhelmed through traumatic abuse or neglect at the time-- reacted out of survival; reacted likely with either flight, freeze or please. Your adult self-- who still lives with the consequences of those initiated survival responses-- can’t rationally accept what happened.

That is the pain of regret and dealing with it.

From there on it can become more complex. The “If only.....<<fill in the blanks>>,” mindset can project itself into the future and tell you, “If only I have my own house, or a partner, (or whatever it is for you).. then I can be content, I can go on with my life.”

But the outward movement of seeking fulfillment doesn’t work. It comes out of compensation, and hence it will never be enough. You will just hop from the one best thing to the other, always being caught in the web of searching for more.

You only have to look at most of those who have wealth and are still unhappy and searching for more power, money, and influence.

Working through Regret Related to Complex PTSD

You might think to yourself that what you need to do is to accept what happened to you, but it is not as easy as that. You can’t will yourself to accept.

People around you have said that to you already, and it feels insulting and comes out of misunderstanding of what PTSD or Complex PTSD really is.

Let us start from the outside and from there move inward.

Close your eyes for a moment and get a feel of the pain of regret. Become intimate with it without further feeding your thoughts into that movement. Think for a moment about what I said earlier; that the essence of regret is the insistence of wanting what happened to be different from what it was.

 Learn more about the child self and reenactment.

Feel that. That constant resistance, wanting, struggling, attempting. Feel the energy that goes into it, the thoughts going in that direction. Again, fully feel it without making it bigger, without allowing yourself to feed more of your thoughts into it. You have to hold yourself in awareness as you do that.

This constant resistance—wanting, struggling, attempting—is your safety valve, your dissociation. Simultaneously, it gives continuance to your regret and prevents you from not being able to meet the emotional residue of your past. Dealing with regret isn't easy.

Negating the Thoughts of Regret

If you negate giving your attention to the movement of those thoughts and feelings that go into wanting what happened to be different from what it was, what will you have to meet?

You will have to meet the underlying hurt of the overwhelming emotional residue that still lives in you due to a traumatic experience or period.

Can you do that? Can you go in and out of that and become intimate with your pain? Not indulge or drown in it, but bring awareness to it. Gradually build up enough resilience to be able to fully stay with it.

As you are doing this, you are effectively moving away from regret. It is not through overcoming but by redirecting your energy to a deeper level of you-- where it is most needed-- that regret is canceled out.

It is by bringing understanding and compassion to those hurt parts of you that you can be willing to come closer to those very parts of you where the overwhelming emotion still lives.
How are you dealing with regret? As you put this exercise into practice, share your thoughts with me in the comment section below.

  • Priscilla Burt says:

    Whenever I think about regerts. I come to this rationale that I’m happy things are the way they are. It’s happening or it happened for a reason. I don’t regret sleeping with my daughters father even though he doesn’t support us. I’m more upset with the fact that in order for me to get any money from him I have to pay out of my own pocket.

  • Uma says:

    And what about when you had an accident, have been injured and want your health back? It’s not always about ptsd or childhood trauma insnt it?

  • Marnie says:

    Thankyou, I have actually been feeling tinges of many many regrets lately, showing me how much I still have to work through… this article was very reassuring, confirming that I know how to work through it…by as you described, facing and dealing with the emotions, thoughts and feelings related to each as I’ve done working work through everything else…

    Thankyou, all your videos and articles have been helping so much, they are so clear and informative and comforting, because they confirm so much of what I have felt or feel and have only in the past year or so, finally found the info. to begin confirming and learning about what I already knew to a great extent, was true. Thankyou for your important work!

  • Sean says:

    This actually makes a lot of sense to me.

  • Sarah says:

    Thank God I found this article. My regrets make life literally unbearable. nearly ended it all because I can’t face up to it. I will use this Thank you.

  • Maniza says:

    I euthanized my two cats. One was 11 years with me and the other just around two years. I suffered a huge financial setback and had to quickly move out of our home and relocate, getting a new job and could not take them with me. Now I cannot live with myself. I miss them and heart is broken. I cannot see beyond the darkness. Please help me.

    • Roland says:

      Sorry to hear that. We got two cats. I know you can’t get back those cats, but would you be able to consider getting a new cat when your situation is more stable?

  • V says:

    Excellent, thank you for writing this. I live recklessly enough to not be familiar with regret, but recently had a big one that i knew deep down was not “my fault.” I was really beating myself up for it – still do sometimes. But this article is exactly the succinct summary connecting the regret to shame/self-blame that i needed explained clearly, in order to start healing in a direct & intentional way. A big deal for me to find this! Thank you Roland Bal

  • Caty says:

    I had prolonged complex traumas, in my adolescence I adopted a strategy: I ignored the bad things that happened to me, I just ignored it and pretended that it didn’t happen. This way it was easier for me to tolerate my environment.
    But unfortunately it became my second nature and I continued this into my adulthood. It costed me too much. I didn’t pay attention to my surroundings, I didn’t respond properly to hurtful things people did to me (even stealing my money or bullying and harassing me) and they repeated that. I felt helpless and I thought I couldn’t do anything to prevent it.
    Now that I have already overcome that state, I can’t get rid of regret of behaving in that stupid manner. I constantly think what could I have done differently or what if nicer people were around me that at least didn’t make those traumatic events for me.
    I have another dilemma also: since in that time I ignored and avoided those adverse experiences and tried to ignore them, now I wonder if thinking about them is helpful or not? I think despite the fact that past is past but trying to forget that period of time is the same harmful strategy that I used to do. But remembering those traumatic events are so painful and makes me angry and sad.
    I would appreciate it if you could give me some advice.
    Thank you

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