Have you ever done something you regret?
We all have regrets in life. Sometimes regrets are about things we did, and sometimes they’re focused on things we didn’t do. Regret can feel intense, so it’s an emotion that people sometimes fear. Regret is common, and it is possible to move forward from things that you regret.
First off, what is regret?
Regret is an often negative emotion that we all feel from time to time. Regret pops up when we remember something that we wish had been different. Maybe it’s an experience you had, or how you treated someone. Maybe it’s missing out on something that was important to you.
Regret can be hard to deal with because it’s uncomfortable. Regret often points to things we could have done better or choices we could have made differently. It can be painful to sit with the fact that there are things you can improve on, or that you could do something that would hurt someone else.
Negative emotions can be hard to cope with. No one likes to feel negatively about themselves, and so it is tempting to push negative feelings like regret away instead of finding ways to move forward. Like all emotions, though, regret is trying to tell you something. Maybe it’s about acting in a way that’s aligned with your values, or exploring the way you react to things. Whatever the message, it can be hard to tune in if you’re not in the habit. Luckily, coping with negative emotions gets a lot easier with practice and self-compassion.
Here are 5 therapist-approved ways you can move on from regret:
Name + explore what regret feels like in your body
It’s uncomfortable to feel negative emotions, so a lot of us tend to push them down or push them away instead of getting familiar with them. Avoiding emotions doesn’t help us move through them, though, it just makes us feel stuck. The way to get out of the habit of pushing down negative emotions is to start noticing and naming when they come up.
Emotions are messengers. They can often tell us much more about what’s going on when we do a little digging. It’s going to be uncomfortable, but try sitting with the discomfort of regret before jumping to do anything about it. Where do you feel it in your body? Is it a sinking feeling in your stomach, or maybe a tightness in your chest or throat? Do your muscles feel tense or relaxed? The more you can discover about how you experience and emotion, the easier it will be to recognize and move through in the future.
Treat yourself with compassion
Whatever it is that you feel regret over, remind yourself that you did the best you could with the choices you had at the time.
Remind yourself of how you feel in this moment to encourage yourself to make a better choice next time. Go out of your way to be self-compassionate in moments when regret and shame rear their heads. We all do things that we aren’t proud of. It’s part of being human and having the ability to make your own choices.
Remember that everyone you love has done things they regret. Does that make you love them any less? Probably not, so treat yourself with the same compassion you’d show a loved one.
A lot of us are way meaner to ourselves than we even realize. It doesn’t feel good to beat yourself up, even if there’s something that you feel a lot of regret about. An important
Forgiveness requires self-compassion, but it’s distinct enough that it deserves its own category here. There’s no way to go back in time and change what has happened. Spending your precious time on earth focused on things that happened in the past just ensures that you miss out on what’s happening in the present moment.
When you’re fixated on the past, you miss the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned from your past to the present, and prove to yourself that you can make better choices in the future.
Learn from your mistakes
Regret, like all emotions, is a messenger. Often, the message from regret is that you acted in a way that you’re not proud of.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easier to look back on things and feel like you could have done something differently. That’s why these moments that leave us feeling regret can be powerful teaching opportunities.
They’re often painful, but pain can be a teacher. If you acted in a way that is truly unaligned with your values and who you believe yourself to be, you can use that information to make a better choice next time. If your regrets stem from something you didn’t do, moving forward you can remember to pause and ask yourself what to do instead of giving in to your first emotional urge.
Check your thoughts
What we think is not always the truth. Sometimes our thoughts lead us away from logical thinking before we even realize what’s happening, and that can lead to regret.
For example, let’s say you snap at a loved one during a stressful moment, like during travel. In your mind, snapping might make sense at the moment. You experience a lot internally that you don’t necessarily display to others, and maybe the person you snapped at was crossing a boundary of yours or ignoring your needs. However, sometimes the response to that frustration comes before the rational thought to slow down and try to see it from their point of view. What is really going on, when you try to step away from the urgency of your initial reaction? Is the way you wanted to react the only way? Is the frustration you’re feeling reasonable, or could it be solved with communication?
The next time you get caught up in an emotional reaction, try to pause and let your logical brain kick on, to help you manage stressful situations more effectively.