Everyone wants to overcome regrets. What matters most is if you learn from them and move on in your life. Then, your regrets have meaning in constructive ways, rather than haunting you over time.
How to Overcome Regrets and Resentments in Life (for good)
Many people hang on to their regrets because they don’t know how to let go of them. How can you just “stop” thinking about regretful times of the past?
At the beginning of letting go, those haunting thoughts may come up more than you like, but that is normal.
As you get to “acceptance” of what happened, your thinking changes. By learning from that experience, the negative thoughts will fade over time and not surface as often for you.
In this article, we discuss how to let go and move on from your regrets in life.
What Happens When You Bury Regrets Instead of Processing and Letting Them Go?
When you hang on to regrets, that feeling of failure or mishap tends to stay with you. Not processing the regret is usually about not accepting the humanness in us.
Whether or not we accept the notion of our humanness and imperfections, determines if we can let the negative experiences go.
When people hang on to their “mistakes” in life, they continue to judge themselves. Judgment usually leads to a lack of acceptance of the Self. Some people may not be consciously aware of hanging on to their “mistakes” in life.
However, if you never accepted your regret as part of your humanness and fallibility, then the regret remains with you throughout life.
This self-judgment is about shame and how it affects your view of your worth, value, and acceptance in life. Shame can never go away if your belief still means you never made peace with your fallibility and mistakes. Those mistakes will always be in the back of your mind.
Brene Brown has an excellent Ted Talk about Shame, which is one of her specialties. Here is the link. If you are not familiar with her, you are in for a treat!
How Our Thoughts Affect Our Feelings and Vice-Versa
Feelings and thoughts go hand in hand. You may not always be aware of how you feel about something, but your thoughts on that issue will come up. Perhaps you have an uncomfortable feeling in your gut, but you can’t recognize your thought that caused that feeling to occur.
One type of signal is not better than the other in terms of informing you that something doesn’t feel right. Some people feel more than they are aware of their thinking. Others may be more attuned in their thoughts. Tuning into your thoughts and feelings gives you an opportunity to understand yourself better. This awareness also gives you the knowledge of how you experience things in life, which is part of who you are.
When you can identify your thoughts and feelings more easily, you will be able to manage how you feel or think in a way that works better for you. It no longer must lead to something you override, dismiss, avoid, etc. unless you choose to do so.
What Happens When You Choose to Hang Onto Negative Experiences?
If you want to overcome regrets in life, you need to “let go.” When you hold onto negative experiences, they stay with you throughout your life. Your experiences tell you what to expect in the world and how to respond.
Your understanding of the world ideally keeps you “safe.” But feeling “safe” doesn’t necessarily mean feeling happy.
Perhaps you know someone who judges people harshly. It may be that the person was deeply hurt long ago and never allowed themselves to be more open with people again.
That person chose, even if they did it unconsciously, to hold on to negative experiences and create a barrier that they feel protects them from being hurt.
Lack of Forgiveness Shuts Out the Good Things in Your Life
But that barrier of not letting go of negative things also keeps good experiences out as well. Everyone has a comfort zone that attempts to keep them from being hurt. When negative experiences remain with a person, their willingness to be more open significantly shrinks.
And their experiences also shrink because they will often choose to avoid risk to avoid being hurt.
It’s a choice everyone makes in their life.
Restructuring Your Negative Thoughts
What does this mean? Restructuring is about making your thoughts and feelings work for you.
For example, if you often feel angry when someone changes their plans, you have a choice to hold on to your anger. But you also can choose to process it and let it go, so it doesn’t stay with you.
For some people, this may be pretty challenging. After all, how we feel or think is how we feel or think, right?
Well, yes, but what we choose to do with that thought or feeling affects our experiences, not just in that moment, but also moving forward.
Let’s look at how to restructure your ways of positively coping with negative experiences.
Looking For Behavioral Patterns in Your Decision-Making and Moods
Most of us are so busy we don’t pay a lot of attention to our feelings and thoughts, no less our moods. So much of the time, we’re not conscious about how we think and behave.
I believe we do what we want to do and don’t do what we don’t want to do. So I always look for the why in my actions. When you understand what you get out of holding onto regrets, you can consciously decide if that still works for you.
But to let go of your feelings of regret, you must become more aware of what is causing those thoughts and feelings about regrets. Try to identify examples of your regrets.
Start with just one regret so you can experience the process of how you are able and willing to let it go. Did you gain anything positive from holding on to the regret? What will you get out of letting it go?
Are there particular instances that resulted in more or more substantial regrets?
When you begin to identify the circumstances that led to your regrets and how you felt at that time, you can start to understand what you felt that caused you to not work through the regretful experience.
How Fear Plays a Part In Overcoming Regrets
We all know fear when it hits us. But it’s important to realize what the fear is about for you.
For example, is it fear of something negative that could have happened? Is it a loss of a relationship, job, or something else that you valued and did not want to lose?
Sometimes, it involves a positive thing we wanted and thought we would not get it if we didn’t take a particular action. The end result may be the reason for your regret.
For example, your boss comes to you and mistakenly gives you credit for something that another employee did. Because this action could result in a possible promotion down the line, you choose not to correct your boss.
And another regret is formed. What does it say about you and your values that you would take the credit for work someone else provided?
Whether or not we are aware of this thinking, we continue to carry it with us, and it inevitably defines who we are. We carry these thoughts even if no one else knows of our actions.
Consequences of Not Forgiving Yourself or Someone Else
I believe it’s more challenging to let go of our own mistakes than it is to forgive others. So let’s look at the forgiveness of others first.
Everything in life has some kind of consequence, whether good or bad. For example, the job you choose to pursue. The person you select as a mate. Your values in life that define who you are, etc.
If you choose not to forgive a friend, what happens if you lose that friendship, especially when that person sincerely apologizes? What does that say about you and your own mistakes in life?
Has that friend forgiven you in the past? Do they seem to value your friendship? Is your friend any less “human” than you in terms of the number of mistakes one makes in life? These are examples of what can help you determine whether to forgive or not.
If you have found a way to forgive others in your life, are you any different than they are in terms of deserving forgiveness for yourself? Not being able to forgive yourself often causes one not to forgive others.
If you can forgive others, but not yourself, then look at why this is so difficult for you? Do you feel your actions are unforgivable, or you are unworthy of forgiveness more than others?
Fully Forgiving Yourself – The How-To
- Identify the regrets you are aware of having.
- How does that regret make you feel? Shame, feeling unworthy of good things, being a bad person?
- Know the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is about recognizing you’ve done something wrong, and most often, wanting to make amends and learning from the action. Shame is about defining your worth and value by your negative actions.
- If you feel shame, then you must learn to have more acceptance of yourself. Self-acceptance develops by recognizing and accepting your positive actions and strengths. Unacceptance of the good things is about self-esteem, and likely involves judging and devaluing yourself in general.
- Identify your beliefs about whether people can learn from their mistakes.
- Ask yourself if people can truly learn from their past and correct unhealthy behaviors.
- Figure out how you can forgive yourself and move on in your life. What action(s) will it take to do that?
- Have you ever chosen to let go of a regret? How did you do that, and what was the result?
- Is the current situation different from a time when you were able to forgive yourself?
- Sometimes you may find that you don’t know how to forgive or let go of your regret. Seeking professional guidance from a therapist can be invaluable in terms of moving forward.
Final Step – Moving Forward in Your Life
Whether making amends with someone, forgiving another person, or forgiving yourself, you have a choice whether to move forward in life or not. To me, the essential pieces of forgiveness are these:
- Accepting that we all are human and make mistakes.
- When we forgive others, we also need to forgive ourselves. We are all human and make mistakes.
- Learning from these mistakes and moving forward is what counts the most.
Life is short and precious. Moving forward — or not — is a choice we all make.
For Further Reading:
Taking the Steps to Forgive Yourself by Kendra Cherry.
Five Strategies for Forgiving Others by Elizabeth Scott, MS