I helped a friend bury a pet yesterday, and she went deep in her sorrow, imagining what she could have done to prevent the accident, creating regrets in her grief. Today is also a huge anniversary of a traumatic event, 9-11, and several of my clients are struggling, ironically, with regrets and shame.
When we lose someone, we always wonder what we might have done differently, wish we could reclaim lost time, and sometimes even blame ourselves for things that we had no control over. But those stories are illusions; part of healing is reclaiming the fullness of experience, and moving on with healthier stories.
In this time when we talk so much about fake news, and have to work so hard to get to the complex truth of the world, it’s easy to lose track of our own beliefs and balance our personal stories with the confusion around us. But balance is the key, here, to help us find clarity in the confusion that brings us to regret and shame.
In the world outside us, research brings us to closest to the truth about the news. And it’s the same for our inner lives, although the research process is different. It starts, though, by asking a hard question, and answering it honestly. (You best sit down first….)
What did you actually DO that you regret?
I expect you’ll be surprised by the answer. It’s likely that your regrets are based on what you imagine you could have done. If you did something that needs action — some apology or correction — that’s pretty easy, in the grand scheme of things. It takes courage to correct a wrong you had a part in. But a wrong based on what didn’t happen? That’s a challenge that requires you to connect with a harder truth — your story is not only imaginary, but it’s also getting in the way of your healing.
Regrets are story hauntings, and we need to find our way to letting those imaginary stories go with the same clarity we release our difficult real world experiences. The thing is, our inner stories feel as real to our psyche as something that physically happens. So the trick is doing the inner research to heal the imaginary story we’ve adopted as a lifelong regret.
How do you move on from not doing? It’s possible to weave a better story, and live that story with the same passion you’ve lived regret, but with more joy and delight. Are you ready to move on? First, believe you can, and that what you do, and the stories you tell about your past, can change.
Then take this one step: Whatever you did not do that caused you to regret the past, do it now. Did you neglect to share your love? Share it with the people around you. Did you want to write, or create something new? Sit down and write, let yourself create. A regret for what is not done, is a call from the world to take action.