Dissecting Regret and How to Work Through It
Regret 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.
Comparison, Regret 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>>.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As you put this exercise into practice, share your thoughts with me in the comment section below.