We all have regrets. Some are petty and insignificant, while some are larger and have had a major impact on our lives. Do you know the one thing they all have in common? They are actions completed and, as such, it serves no purpose to dwell on them.
Thinking about things you did in the past not only serves no purpose, but it ruins the present. I’ve blogged on regrets before, but this time my focus is on a specific kind of regret: those from years or decades ago. It makes sense that we might still be thinking about a mistake we made yesterday—missing an appointment or having a tiff with your son who happened to be in the right. It makes no sense to still be thinking about whatever we did or didn’t do in the distant past, whether or not it affects our lives today.
Here are some examples:
- During your adolescence, you were indiscriminately sexually active. Your home life was a wreck and you were looking for love in all the wrong places, including from older men who took advantage of your youth an innocence.
- You had post-partum depression, as your mother and her mother both had, and you had very little energy to spend on tending to your newborn. He developed into a child who mostly likes to be by himself and becomes anxious around people.
- You stayed in an abusive marriage for 20 years and have been remarried to a wonderful spouse for 12 years. Because you grew up with an abusive parent, mistreatment was what was familiar to you. Your two children suffered from watching you be abused. One has just begun therapy. The other has drug addictions.
- You’re in recovery from opiate abuse in your teens and twenties and have been clean for 8 years. You now have a good job and a loving family, but still feel deep shame about your drug use and the people you hurt while using. Your current family knows and forgives you because you’re a different person now.
Ruminating about regrets hurts us in several ways. It makes us believe that thinking about the wrongs we did can be changed by, well, thinking about them. It usurps time that we could be spending more constructively by either focusing on the present or thinking about positive things in the past. It also keeps us fixated on whatever we’ve done wrong rather than on what we’ve done right which makes us feel bad about ourselves, lowering our self-esteem. It’s a way of unnecessarily punishing ourselves.
Regrets rob you of the present. The past is over and done with. You did the best you could back whenever, and it wasn’t great. So what. Welcome to the club!