Regret is to feel sorry, disappointed, distressed or remorseful about the past. To remember with a feeling of loss or sorrow. To mourn. Well jeez, that’s dire. Regret is some heavy business.
When we are living in regret, we are abandoning ourselves.
We are abandoning and exiling the version of us that made those decisions. Because when we play the old “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” with our past choices, we are leaving that version of us, that inner you, whether it was 20 years ago, two years ago, or last week, like an inner child but sometimes a more recent you, we are leaving that part of our Self out to dry.
We are disavowing them, saying, “They made a terrible decision,” and that they, thus you, should feel really bad about yourself. And baby, that doesn’t serve you. It never has and it never will.
Why do we regret?
And the answer, my nerds, is evolutionary: Because we think it will protect us.
We think it will keep us safe because we think regret will keep us from doing that same thing we judge ourselves for again.
But rolling around in regret about it is not going to do what you subconsciously think it’s going to. It’s not going to save you from repeating your old patterns, it’s just re-enacting the old pattern of beating yourself up under the guise of thinking you’re going to create change this time if you’re just cruel enough to you now.
My sweet kitten-mittens: You can’t heal hurt with more hurt.
That’s just not how it works. Because science. Because while you’re sitting around filled up with regret, you’re slamming your foot on the gas of your nervous system, spinning and ruminating and filling your perfect bloodstream with those sympathetic fight-or-flight chemicals: adrenaline and cortisol. You’re creating stress in your body hormonally, chemically, about something you cannot change.
And once you’ve spun on it in your own mind, all full up with stress chemicals, you collapse, into dorsal, into freeze, into that checked-out, isolating, self-flagellating place where you say, “This will never change. I’m the worst. I make terrible decisions. I can’t trust myself.”
And that’s the rub with regret; you strengthen the neural groove in your mind that says, “I cannot be trusted.”
And from there, what do you think is going to happen the next time you try to make a decision or change your life? You’re not going to trust yourself.
Your intuition, your discernment, you’re going to look outside of yourself for someone else to make your life happen, to decide for you, to tell you what to do and how to do it, all the while strengthening that “I’m not to be trusted” story more, and the codependent story that says that someone else, everyone else, knows better for you and your life than you.
Authentic you messed up real bad, which leads you to want to people-please those people who know better about your life even more, which strengthens your perfectionist story even more, and makes you want to shape shift and chameleon to keep them happy, because after all, they know best about your life.
What a quagmire. What a hot friggin’ mess, my darling squash blossom, and it all starts with believing that there is a right and wrong way to do things.
To live, to be, and believing, again, from our codependent conditioning, that you don’t know the best way for you to be because you’re inherently unworthy. My tender little cupcake, oh, how painful. How painful that you’ve been living this way.
Of course, I get it, I used to roll around in regret too, until it hit me one day that I was rejecting the parts of me that made those decisions.
And we’ll come back to that in just a moment, but first, to be clear, I’m not telling you not to have your feelings. I encourage you to safely feel it all without judgment or criticism, so you can process your feeling somatically, meaning through your body.The patriarchy told you to trust a man’s opinion more than your own.
But just don’t get mired in regret again, because it doesn’t change a darn thing except your story about who you are, how trustworthy you are and what you are capable of now, in this new and precious moment, now.
And I can hear your brain saying, “But wait, if I don’t regret, how will I learn? How will I change? How will I grow? How will I hold myself accountable and take personal responsibility? Won’t I just be a jerk forever if I stop regretting?”
It is only when we drop the regret that we can truly bring in personal responsibility and accountability.
Because your vision is clouded when you’re in regret. You can’t see the ways you can make change now and for the future when you’re focused on beating your past self up.
Living in regret is, in fact, a self-centered, short-sighted state of being.
All you can think about when you’re regretting is how terrible you are.
So how exactly are you to take accountability and responsibility when you’re focused on you and beating you up?
Furthermore, when you are rolling around in all that regret, you can’t see much beyond blaming you. You can’t see all of your conditioning, socialization and family teaching that led you to make the choices you made.
It’s important that we recognize that inherent in these stories, the “I should’ve known better” stories, is you rejecting the you that could not possibly have known anything different. And frankly, self-rejection, staying mired there instead of taking responsibility and owning your part, is buffering. Buffering is anything we do to detach from our feelings, to push our feelings aside.
I think we can use the self-blame of regret, the beating ourselves up, to buffer or distract ourselves from the deeper feelings.
For example, the disappointment of being raised in the homes we were raised in, being raised with emotionally immature parents, being raised to believe other people’s voices matter more than ours, being raised in the patriarchy and having learned that one should defer to men, to white-bodied people, to thin people, and that there’s something wrong with you if you are not all of those kinds of person.
Of course you want to buffer and push your feelings away if you do not know how to do thought work and somatics, if you don’t know how to manage your mind and be in real and deep conversation with your body and your nervous system, your inner children. Because systems, from family systems to larger systems of oppression, taught us to buffer so that we don’t have to feel those feelings.
Remember, those systems, both codependent family systems and the larger systems of power and inequity—oppressive systems—taught us not to feel our feelings.
Taught us to buffer. And in so doing, it keeps us from questioning systems that keep us locked in those boxes, and prevent us from speaking truth to power, and keeping us from changing our lives.
And once you can recognize that your personal choices are both your personal responsibility and are shaped deeply by the systems you grew up in that taught you who and how to be, then you can tap into and can recognize that you do in fact have significant power in your own life, in your own mind, in your own body, which admittedly can feel scary when you’ve never tapped into or felt your own power.
Furthermore, we beat ourselves up instead of realizing when we’ve been operating from our childhood survival skills, and codependent perfectionist and people-pleasing thoughts and habits are one hundred percent once brilliant childhood survival skills. Of course they are.
So if you made a decision, and you did a thing you maybe didn’t want to do but you did it to keep someone else happy, perhaps you were doing that because you realized in childhood that people-pleasing was a brilliant way to feel safe, loved, worthy, cared about.
And frankly, the fact that child you realized that and came up with this brilliant strategy, that is something to be celebrated, because it got you through. It’s not something to beat yourself up about.
Now, I’m not saying to keep making your decisions from that place again. Right? I’m not saying it serves adult you now to act for those childhood scripts.
You get to grow and change, you get to learn who you want and need to be for you now so you can do it differently now.
But you didn’t know how to do that then.
When you get mad at yourself, judge yourself, are mean to yourself and stay in that energy, you take away your own ability to get curious, and to ask questions that help you to move your life forward, to behave differently next time, like:
- Why did my body create that response?
- Why is my mind telling that story?
- What story is my mind even telling?
- What self-love or self-care do I need right now?
- Have I been self-abandoning again?
- Am I trapped in a self-abandonment cycle?
- How can I show myself kindness and care right now?
- Am I hungry or thirsty?
- Do I need to pee or take a nap?
- Do I need to come correct in a situation and apologize?
Regretting your choices is only possible when you know what the future will bring, and you don’t. I don’t. Regretting what you currently see as the outcome of your choices now is frankly like playing goddess. It’s saying you know what is right and best and good and that this outcome isn’t that.
When you actually don’t know the eventual outcome of your decision down the road, and by staying in that regret cycle, you’re cutting yourself off from seeing the possible good that may come from whatever decision you’ve made in the past.
Finally, before we move on to remedies, let me answer the question I know you’ve been asking: “How will I iterate if I don’t regret? Won’t I stay stagnant? How will I grow?”
And to that I say, when our focus is on what we regret, we are focused on the Self that made those decisions. “She should have known better. She should have been a better person. She should have known things she couldn’t have known when she couldn’t have known them.”
Inherent in the story of regret is the idea that there is something wrong with you, and that’s the part I take the most umbrage with, because, my beauty, you are perfect and amazing and worthy of love and good things right now as you are, and you were then.
It’s only by accepting and honoring past you that you can build the self-trust that will guide you to make the most aligned next-right-choice in the future.
Review your choices. Contemplate them. Take responsibility for what’s yours and nothing more and make a plan using thought work to slow your roll when you make the next decision. Make a plan using somatics to get more embodied and present in yourself and with your intuition and discernment so you can make different decisions in the future. Not better decisions. Just different.
Now the remedies.
So when you find yourself flipping to regret, your foot is squarely on that gas pedal, shunting you right up into fight-or-flight. The invitation is to move to compassion and curiosity.
Step 1: Return to your body.
Whenever you’re spinning in your brain, return to your body, to your breath, to your feet on the floor, clasp your hands together tight. Get present. And whatever you find there in your body, even if you just feel numb, promise yourself you will meet you with the three Cs: compassion, curiosity and care. Ask your body curiously what it wants and needs from you in this moment.
Step 2: Check yourself for catastrophizing.
We make things bigger problems than they actually are from our fears that were actually insignificant. So ask yourself, “Am I making this bigger than I need to?”
Step 3: One of the first things that thought-work teaches us in an empowering way is to ask yourself: “Do I believe my thoughts?”
This question reminds us that so many of our thoughts are not ours in origin. We are often monkey-seeing and monkey-doing what we saw our parents, caregivers, community members doing.
From there, ask yourself, “Do I believe my own thought that this choice was regrettable? Am I regretting this because I regret it, or because I was taught it was a regrettable choice?”
Once you’ve gotten some clarity on that, you can remind yourself that regret is a feeling caused by the thought, “This is a regrettable choice,” and you can remind yourself that that’s not a choice you have to continue to make.
Step 4: Knowing the root of regret is the story, “I should have done this better or differently.” Get real with it.
If you actually think you should have done something different, what’s that something different? And I really want you to answer the question. Put pen to paper about it. Because maybe there’s an answer there.
Or maybe your brain is just telling you you should have done something different because you don’t like the outcome, when your decision was the best one you could have made in that past moment, and with the skills you had then.
Which brings us to this question: “Did I actually have the capacity to have done it differently?” And we ask that not with the energy of self-judgment, but truly with one of self-love and self-reflection.
Do you currently, or did you then, have the nervous system regulation to have responded to that co-worker differently or to a sibling differently, to your partner differently, to have made a different choice in that moment? Did you have the somatic skills to have remained embodied, to stay present in your body in that moment of stress?
Is it realistic that you could have done it differently in that moment or is it just some perfectionist fantasy.
So you get to ask yourself, “When I put the regret aside, what can I learn from this? How can I grow from this while being compassionate, curious, caring?”
And when that old regret monster pops up its head to blame, shame, and guilt you, remind it that it’s not welcome here.
That you’re choosing now in this moment to not listen to those old self-flagellating thoughts anymore, because you know a kinder, more loving way now.
A way that centers the truth of who you were then, honors it, respects it, praises it and honors the you you are now, and the future self that you’re growing into being each and every beautiful day when you choose to be kind with yourself instead of choosing the buffer and self-abandonment that is regret.
Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!
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