Dealing with Guilt and Regret? Be Courageous & Lean in! Don’t Hide It!
Don’t you hate being forced into making a decision, when you don’t have all the facts? Or how about when you react emotionally to a situation and it turns into a disaster? Times like these create situations where you’re left dealing with guilt and regret. We ALL make mistakes, but if we’re not careful our lives can become full of should-ofs, would-ofs, could-ofs.
Mistakes are part of life. We don’t always choose wisely. We often react first, think later. It’s easy to get caught up in shame, anger, anxiety and depression from not doing better. More often than not, we regret what we didn’t do more than regretting what we did do.
Think about this: your eye color and height are facts of your life, and you learn to accept them without damaging your self-esteem. If you’re unhappy, you wear heels or contact lenses. But why is it that you can’t easily accept mistakes, change what you can and move on? If mistakes are a fact of life, shouldn’t dealing with guilt and regret be easier?
Not when a part tells us we need to hide mistakes, because we’re in danger of being rejected, disliked, humiliated or hurt. Our discomfort and pain come from our thoughts about ourselves and our actions. “If I’d been smarter.” “I should have known better.” “If I acknowledge my part in the fiasco, I’ll appear weak and vulnerable, opening myself up to further pain.”
Is there really a way to make dealing with guilt and regret easier?
Yes! It involves reassuring this part that mistakes aren’t a judgment on your personal worth. Learning to suspend judgment is key. We have to stop telling ourselves that we’re stupid or a bad person because something happened.
Life happens and your emotions are powerful…Accept It!
Feeling guilt and regret is uncomfortable because there’s something you need to learn about the situation you just experienced. It might be about the way you connect with others and the world around you; it might be about the way you hold, or didn’t hold, to your values and beliefs.
Think of guilt and regret as being productive feedback. Embrace the discomfort and lean in to understand what you regret and why you regret it. As you do this, you’ll notice different emotions coming to the surface.
This is when you’ll learn something important about yourself! For example, you wouldn’t feel bad about not keeping your promise, if you didn’t care about the person who was hurt by your broken promise. It wouldn’t hurt as much if you didn’t care about being a person of integrity.
Try identifying and naming each emotion you feel, as you explore your guilt and regret. Notice your body sensations. Without judgment, allow yourself to mindfully experience, acknowledge, then accept. As Henry David Thoreau said:
“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it come to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”
We’re not superwomen. We have strengths; we have weaknesses. Everyone does. So if you identify a weakness you need to work on, you’ve uncovered a nugget of gold! Now you have the wonderful opportunity to strengthen that area of your life. You can’t change what’s been done, but you can make a plan to get back to where you want to be.
Practice fierce self-compassion.
An obstacle to dealing with guilt and regret is our tendency to ruminate and torture ourselves with self-criticism. Self-forgiveness is another key to dealing with guilt and regret. Talk to your best friend about it and really believe the comforting words she or he says.
Take responsibility and make amends.
Accepting responsibility is so difficult, yet the more you practice it, the easier it becomes. Break through that wall you’ve built and say: “Yes, I did that. I’m not going to blame someone else or justify my actions. I’m going to do everything in my power to make it up to you…to make this right.” If someone chooses to reject your apology, it’s time to compassionately examine if they need more time, or if you need to let go of that relationship.
Challenge your thinking.
You won’t stay stuck with regrets over lost opportunities, if you focus on the new ones in front of you. Challenge unhelpful thoughts that amplify regret. You’re not doomed forever. This wasn’t your only chance for happiness. You couldn’t have known how it would turn out. Don’t discount all the ways you have stepped up and stepped forward.
Be a model for others.
Know that your ability to acknowledge your regrets and move on does not go unnoticed. You will be an inspiration to others.
Dealing with guilt and regret is a vital part of Stepping Forward into a more fulfilling life. Because this is so challenging, I’m creating a program specifically tailored to help you develop the courage to step forward. It’s scheduled to be launched next year. You can now download an Introduction to The Stepping Forward Program. I invite you to get your sneak peek today!