Regret is an inescapable part of life. We are human. We make mistakes. Yet the feeling of regret seems almost intolerable at times. We may find ourselves hanging on to past actions or inactions, believing that whatever personal losses they resulted in could have been avoided.
Rumination over these losses can feel like it is serving a purpose in this way, giving us a false sense of control over a situation in which we have none. In reality, ruminating on past disappointments and resentments allows these painful memories to live rent-free in our heads. It affects the way we behave, make decisions and interact within our current relationships.
The following are common things people find it most difficult to let go, causing emotional suffering:
How do we know when it’s time to let go?
It’s worth noting again that it’s normal to experience feelings of regret, frustration and disappointment to some extent. In fact, it’s important to make an intentional effort to acknowledge and sit with these uncomfortable feelings. But we also need to be aware of the line between acceptance and rumination.
The following are signs that you may be ruminating over something you need to let go:
- Excessively dwelling on a specific incident
- Repeatedly asking yourself questions that are unanswerable
- Seeking a desired “answer”
- Feeling persistent frustration about the situation
- Engaging in unnecessary rationalization
Reflect upon what strategies you have been using to deal with these unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself honestly if those strategies resulted in less suffering and made the problems go away. Most people would likely say that they either obsess or “check out” from unpleasant feelings or ruminate on them—two things that make them feel even more out of control.
How do we let go?
To cope effectively with any unpleasant situation, we must let go of any ideas about the way we wished things could be and instead accept the way that we are in the present moment. Once we accept our reality without judgement, we are better able to see things for what they are. It is then that we can begin to look at all the pieces of the puzzle, determine what we have control over and identify potential action steps.
Acknowledge that you are feeling frustrated, guilty or regretful and that these feelings are an inherent part of life. Along with this, remind yourself that nobody is able to predict how future events will unfold. Whatever decision you made in the past made sense in the moment with the knowledge you had at the time. Worrying about “what ifs” will not change the past or future for the worse or better, it will only diminish your emotional capacity to cope with whatever does happen.
Here is what you need to remember: while taking responsibility for past mistakes can be empowering and productive, you also need to give yourself permission to let whatever happens, happen. Give yourself permission to forth your best effort and to not be so personally tied to outcomes. You may need to experience struggles in order to learn lessons that will enrich your future endeavors. In the meantime, give yourself permission to be human. And give yourself permission to trust that.
Strengthening coping skills and self-esteem will foster your ability to tolerate distress and persevere though challenging times. If you feel that you need extra support, seeking mental health treatment can be immensely helpful in providing lasting relief. Meet our team to learn more!
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