How to Handle Regrets in Later Life
As we get older we carry regrets, shame and remorse about things we've done and things we've failed to do. You might think you are the only person with a secret stash of shame about past actions but take comfort in knowing everyone has done things they regret.
In the journey of life we have all made mistakes and hurt people mostly out of immaturity and selfishness in pursuing our own needs or acting out of painful emotions and unformed values. Mistakes and bad choices usually centre around the three biggies of life: relationships, career/finances and health/lifestyle.
You can regret and feel ashamed about past sexual experiences and relationship heartaches, past financial mistakes and misguided career choices and bad habits and unhealthy eating which has led to illness. Maybe you regret an accident that spun on a split second decision.
You can also regret what you failed to achieve such as having children or wishing for more children; the failure to have a happy marriage, be successful, rich or famous or fulfill childhood dreams to develop a talent.
You can torment yourself by mulling over past regrets and wallowing in shame and self-loathing but it is a completely futile exercise because no amount of wallowing can change the past.
And such anguish is damaging to yourself and those around you. You cannot be your best in the present if you are mentally and emotionally beating yourself up for the past and feeling guilty and ashamed with family and friends.
Various schools of psychology offer three different coping strategies for dealing with the past. When you use all three together, they become a potent force in overcoming regrets and allowing you to embrace resilience, renewal and redemption.
The first coping strategy is emotional release. It is essential not to repress but rather to express painful feelings and get them out of your system and process hurts, disappointments and grief. Experience fully your grief and remorse over your losses and the hurt you caused others. Crying is healing and so is journaling.
Most people need help in processing painful emotions from people who are gifted with empathy, understanding and compassion. One to one counselling or group therapy is a way to healing and growth. When seeking professional help, be discerning in choosing a counsellor or a support group.
The second coping strategy is reframing. After you have expressed your feelings, it is essential to reflect rationally on the trauma or mistake and think it through from fresh perspectives. View yourself with understanding and compassion and choose to forgive yourself; accept a pardon for your mistake and stop the self-punishment.
Use mental disciple to accept that it has happened and that no amount of wishing will change it. Stop tormenting yourself by churning over the painful event. Choose to forget it. Make a conscious choice to let go of regret and shame.
See the positive side of the trauma or mistake. What good has come out of it? Funny how good can come from the worst situations. Consider what you have learned from this pain and how you have grown and deepened and how others how benefited too. Be grateful for grace.
Remind yourself of all the good things you have done in your life that outnumber and overshadow the bad.
Counselling or a support group can help with reframing as you receive input from caring, trustworthy people who can focus on the positive and show you forgiveness, acceptance and compassion.
The third coping strategy is to take action or change your behaviour. What can you DO to make amends for the wrongs you did in the past? Can you make it up to people you have hurt? Can you say sorry and reconcile?
Now you are older and wiser, show love to your family and friends every day. Share the joy of the present and build happy memories for the future.
Can you help others in some way? Can you help the younger generation avoid the mistakes you made or help other adults deal with similar traumas, grief and mistakes?
The opposite of feeling shame is feeling good about yourself. How can you be a better person and make a contribution to a better, kinder world? Find yourself a worthy cause and use your time to make yourself and others happy in the present rather than waste your time wallowing in the past.