Please don’t tell me you don’t have any regrets…please…I beg of you. Normal people have regrets; it doesn’t make you pathological, it makes you human.
I know what you’re thinking, but all the photos on Facebook with inspirational quotes superimposed on them tell me that having regrets is negative and cynical. You weren’t thinking that? Oh, I thought you were.
“Appreciate everything, regret nothing”
“Never regret anything because at one time it was exactly what you wanted.”
Seriously? Just stop it.
In a reality not filled with dramatic sunsets and quick self-help quips most people have at least a few compunctions, and oftentimes they’re not the result of something that was “exactly what [they] wanted.”
I’m bothered by advice like this not because it’s ridiculous and impractical (it is), but because it minimizes our need to process and do penance for the actions we see worthy of regret. Really getting down and dirty with our regret is valuable; it allows us the opportunity to understand it, learn from it, and forgive ourselves.
Honestly, what kind of people would we be if every time we made a mistake we shrugged our shoulders and forgot about it? Survey says…crappy people.
I understand the temptation to say you have no regrets; when you acknowledge you wish you hadn’t made certain choices, you sometimes feel like you’re taking away from what you have now. But you don’t have to love every leg of the trip to appreciate your final destination.
I regret being such a horrible person from age 14-17. I was a total brat. I was a teenager so it’s forgivable, but the shame I feel about some of the things I did during those years will always bring a tinge of pain. True, I love my life, and had I been compliant and studious I would probably be in a different place now, but I can be satisfied with my current circumstances and still wish I’d never made my mother cry.
Unfortunately, those of us who regret something we did (or didn’t do) to someone who has died are at a disadvantage because we can’t ask for forgiveness. Therefore, we are at greater risk of letting unresolved regrets have a negative impact on our lives. But the solution is not to close our eyes tightly and wish them away, rather it’s to accept they exist and work towards forgiving ourselves and growing from our mistakes.
Here’s a simple journaling exercise for anyone who struggles with regrets, especially those who are coping with grief and loss.
1. Take two sheets of paper
2. Spend at least 10 minutes writing about your regrets on the first sheet of paper. Write about everything you wish you could have done differently and everything you wish you could change.
3. Keeping the first sheet of paper close at hand, take the second sheet of paper, and spend at least 10 minutes writing down all the ways you have grown from your regrets and all the lessons you’ve learned.
4. You can do what you want with the sheet of paper you wrote your regrets on, keep it in your journal, or throw it away. I want you to hold on to the second sheet though, the one with your lessons learned. Leave it with your journal or fold it up and put it away somewhere private, but don’t throw it away just yet. Next time you feel yourself getting caught up in the ‘if only’s’ take this piece of paper out and remind yourself how far you’ve come.
Seeing as we’ve been talking about quotes, I’ve created these two journaling pages using a quote from Henry David Thoreau.
“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”
Below are links to the journaling pages as downloadable PDF’s. You are welcome to print them and use them to complete the journaling exercise.
Want more grief journaling? Check out our 30-day Self-Guided Grief Journaling Intensive, or the following articles:
- 5 Benefits of Grief Journaling
- Continuing Bonds: A Grief Journal Exercise
- Growth from Grief (and a Journaling Exercise)
- Missing Moments & Letter Writing: A Journal Exercise
- Six-Word Stories, Statements, and Exclamations: A Journaling Exercise
- Support System Superlatives: A Journaling Exercise
- Wedding Day Advice: A Journal Exercise