Do regrets stop you from moving forward?
In this darker time of the year, as the earth energy is drawing in and my own bodily energy is drawing me more into myself, I have reflected on some of the things I regret in my life.
Regrets are choices we made that hindered or harmed others or ourselves. The unlived life of abandoned dreams and lost friendships. Or the decision to withdraw our hearts from the world and neither receive nor offer love.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t have the courage to meet my father before he died at the age of 64, when I was 39. I had not been in touch with my father since I was two. Then, in my adult life, there was a constant niggling voice in the back of my head urging me to go and see him.
But at the time I was too afraid to knock on a stranger’s door – the stranger who was my father. Fear of rejection was holding me back. What if he doesn’t want to see me? What if we don’t know what to say to each other? What if I, we, can’t bear the pain of the many years of lost connection? Then it was too late. I had missed a precious opportunity. Something I had to learn to live with.
How to think differently about things you regret
For many years I judged myself harshly for not having had the courage to meet my father, in the hope that a new perspective would free me from the sorrow of my loss. But of course self-criticism never gets us very far. It’s quite the opposite. Instead, soft hands of self-compassion and understanding are needed. I had to learn to hold my regret with gentleness - and acknowledge the person I was when I made that choice.
When I could see clearly who I was at the time, I could forgive myself. Forgiveness is something that comes from a deep understanding and acceptance of what happened. It doesn’t mean that the sense of regret goes away but when it is held with kindness, self-compassion and tenderness, it becomes bearable.
It’s not the end of the story with my father. Since his death I have been in touch with his second wife. I sometimes write her a letter and I call her on her birthday and at Christmas. I met her once, shortly after my father’s death.
This year, I decided to go and see her again because suddenly I thought: What if I miss another opportunity of meeting her again, of talking with her about my father, finding out more about him, the sort of man he was, what he struggled with, what he enjoyed in his life…? So this year on my travels to Germany to see my family for Christmas, I will visit my father’s second wife for two days. When I told her she was over the moon.
I am so glad I made this choice. It doesn’t make my regret go away, but it feels lighter and I can bear it now.
Francis Weller puts it so well: We can create the conditions within which the grace of forgiveness can arise. When our regrets are polished by self-compassion, they soften and release the life trapped inside.
What do you regret?
Take these positive steps
Why not reflect on some of your regrets ? It could be the time when opportunities for forgiveness, acknowledgement and positive steps present themselves.
You may want to take some time over a cuppa in your favourite place to write down some of your regrets.
Remember: it’s easy to judge and blame ourselves with hindsight. The person you were at the time was different from the person you are now. Bring to mind what was going on at the time when you missed an opportunity to love, to stay in connection, to say or do something that needed to be said or done.
Connect with your heart – take three deep breaths - and hold your regret with the soft hands of self-compassion, understanding and acknowledgement. Notice how you feel now.
Reflect on what positive steps you could take that could help you to forgive yourself and others. It may be writing a card to someone telling them how much you love them, how much you missed them in your life, how much you regret what happened. It could be giving someone a call to tell them that you’d like to come and visit them. It may be letting a regret be what it is, because you understand yourself better now - and realise that you don’t have to beat yourself up anymore.
Karen Liebenguth is a coach and accredited mindfulness teacher. She offers 1:1 coaching while walking in Victoria park, East London, because she believes that it is in nature where insight, change and creativity can happen most naturally. Karen offers tailored mindfulness programmes for the workplace to foster personal and professional development, self-leadership, mental resilience.
For more information on Karen’s work or to contact her, visit her website here