How To Handle That Gnawing Feeling Of Regret
“God, he was so into me and I just walked away.”
”Why did I stay in that relationship so long?”
”I wasted years pining after him.”
”If only I hadn’t flipped out and said all of that, we might still be together.”
”Cheating on him was the biggest mistake of my life.”
And on and on and on. And on.
Since time travel isn’t a thing we can do yet, I hear a lot of stories of romantic regret. I have my fair share of “what ifs” too. As a recovered Avoider, romantic regret was my status quo for years.
(Want to learn your Love Archetype? Take the Dating Diagnosis quiz HERE.)
Through my experience helping my clients overcome those feelings of regret, as well as turning my own regrets into lessons, these 3 steps are cheaper than therapy and will keep you from repeating the same mistakes in the future.
#1 Develop Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is a super underrated life skill. It doesn’t mean you don’t take responsibility for your actions. It doesn’t mean you don’t apologize to people you’ve mistreated.
Self-compassion is acknowledging your choices while simultaneously understanding that you did the best you could at the time with the tools you had.
Imagine a child who acts out by intentionally breaking a toy because she doesn’t have the ability to process her frustration, hurt, etc in any other way at that precise moment. Should that kid spend the rest of her life viewing herself as an impulsive and destructive person? Or should she understand that as a young child, she did the only thing she knew how to do?
The same applies for us grownups. In many ways, we’re still that same small child we once were. And we are deserving of the same compassion.
Oprah defines forgiveness as “giving up the hope that the past could be different” and that’s how I view self-compassion. Forgiving yourself for the past, in order to free yourself in the present and the future.
#2 Learn Your Trigger
I used to have this knee-jerk reaction to say no to emotionally available guys who directly expressed interest in me. I much preferred the emotionally unavailable type, as it allowed me to stay “safe” from a true experience of vulnerability.
I know a man who always cheats on his partner when he feels he has some reason to mistrust her. Once he feels she’s being secretive, that triggers him to sabotage the relationship by cheating, and paradoxically - becoming the untrustworthy one.
When you look back at your regrets, what were your triggers? What was the emotion that caused your reaction in that moment?
It’s important for you to identify the feeling underneath your regretful action, because guess what? You’re 100% guaranteed to feel that feeling again.
There’s nothing like a romantic relationship to bring to the surface some of your deeply held fears.
Once you’ve got your trigger figured out, move on to the final step:
#3 Make A Plan
It bears repeating - you will experience those past emotions again. After all, humans don’t have millions of emotions to chooose from - we only have 4 or 6, depending on which researcher you ask.
That means you’ll feel sad again, angry again, etc. If feeling vulnerable has triggered anger in the past, it’s safe to say it will do the same in the future. The circumstances might be different, but our triggers love to find new and unexpected ways of popping up.
When you know something potentially fraught is bound to occur in future, you’d be wise to come up with an action plan.
If you don’t know what to do when you feel triggered, the best course of action is always to stop and breathe. Don’t say anything, don’t do anything. Don’t lash out. Don’t withdraw entirely. Don’t repeat your past mistakes. Acknowledging why you’re feeling what you’re feeling will give you an instant sense of control over your emotions.
If you need time to process what you’re feeling, take the time. Communicate that you need the time. Choose to find a way to do better.
My yoga teacher Anthony Benenati always says “basic doesn’t mean easy” and I believe that wisdom applies to the above. These are basic steps. But they might feel really hard to do. They were for me, at least at first.
You can’t expect to beat yourself up and do better at the same time. You can’t gloss over your “why” or blame your actions on another person. They’re your actions, and only you can choose a different way of dealing with romantic relationships in the future.
You haven’t missed the boat. You didn’t blow your only chance at love. There are more opportunites to do better. There are new loves out there for you to meet.
Your only job is to clear the obstacles standing between you and the love you want. Those regrets swimming through your head are obstacles, especially if they’re keeping you stuck in the past.
Whether you believe everything happens for a reason, or you believe the universe is random, the fact remains that your past provides lessons and insights that you can choose to use to your benefit today.
Need help understanding what you can do to find love in the future? Book a free coaching session with me HERE and I will show you how.