Forgiving Yourself: How to Let Go of Regret

Life is a tricky mistress. Every day starts roughly the same with a cessation of unconsciousness and a thrust into the real world. This is the only reliable constant and even it suffers from unpredictability.

If you’ve ever played those video games that insist you make decisions almost reflexively without much thought, you’ll find daily routine can be subject to a similar programming. Often times, the choices we make are benign and do not alter life in any significant manner. Though this is the bulk, a minority of these snap decisions can sneakily impact life more intensely; they can throw a wrench into things. 

Be it from an accumulation of seemingly benign choices or an out-of-the-blue happening, consequences from these events can sometimes leave the decision-maker feeling less than content. The aftermath of choices unfortunately cannot be influenced post-engagement. You can only move forward from them and reconcile with the past. This can be difficult; especially if the results of choices made are negative ones.

I know these battles well. Far too well, if you ask me.

I carried heavy amounts of negativity in this manner for long periods of time. Guilt and regret have the tendency to stick without much give. Before I knew it, I was dragging them behind me like heavy weights, unwilling to let them and continue on with more ease. I suppose I felt responsible for the perceived havoc I wreaked and lugging these burdens around seemed like a righteous payment.

A problem exists with living like this. 

Life is one of those precious things that, as far as humanity knows, happens only once. Burdening oneself through any stretch of its duration is robbery. To think that mistakes are rare– that only you are capable of making them– is quite arrogant. In truth, no one, living and dead, went through life without faltering often. 

Except maybe Jesus but he is a special case.

Mistakes happen; the key is to dismiss them before they begin to fester and grow into something else. Regret is a natural sensation but darkness can stem from a long-term relationship with the feeling. Like an untreated wound, regret can override the body’s defenses and alter the mind. Soon, the only lens that exists for people who do not unburden themselves is the one colored in a melancholy gray. 

So, how can this be remedied, you may wonder? The truth is that relieving yourself from guilt and regret is not as easy as turning off a light switch. The struggle is intense but necessary. I will try my best to explain how I manage in hopes that an ear in need can listen and understand. Forgiving others is easy, forgiving yourself is a whole other ball game.

The first step in self-forgiveness is reminding yourself that, no matter how strongly you wish to change the events of the past, you cannot do so. Suffering over past actions may seem like justice and, in some cases, may be true. Guilt can seem like a badge of righteousness for a while. 

The key is to turn that guilt into introspection. Fleshing out the reasons behind what happened will lead to a greater understanding of why. Knowing the meaning behind a circumstance eradicates painful confusion that makes these negative sensations linger for longer than they should. Knowing the meaning allows for growth as well. 

Instead of dwelling, look ahead, be mindful of the mistakes made and seek out ways to avoid making them later on. Emotions aside, boiling things down to their logical parts can lend wisdom to future events with possibilities for similar outcomes. Get to know yourself and love that person intimately. 

Give yourself room to make a misstep as well. Understand that some things happen without reason and forego laying blame upon anyone including yourself. Self-pity is just as harmful as guilt; a subject I have touched on before in my Handling Disappointment article. Being harsh with yourself is ok but, just as we are told to be quick to forgive others, apply this guidance to the person staring back at you in the mirror, too. 

Move on; even if the choices that haunt you seem unforgivable. Life is not worth self-loathing. Do yourself a favor and continue with a head held high. Ask for forgiveness when you need it. 

Lastly, refrain from justifying your past mistakes. This can lead to a warped sense of morals, in my opinion. Understanding and relenting are two very different things. Better is it to identify mistakes as such and continue. I like to remind myself that no one person is perfect regardless of how put together they may seem to us. Everyone is hiding cracks on the surface but that’s the beauty of being human. No one can stay running forever without tripping a couple times.

So, there you have it: some word medicine for a guilt-stricken heart. I know I will return to this often when I am strongly afflicted. I hope to whomever reads this that it helps in remedying those feelings as it does for me. I know I am young, not too wise, and prone to stumbling. Even so, I am more than just the missteps I’ve taken. Everyone is. Let us try not to forget that.

Pick yourself up, reflect, understand and do not point any fingers. Tomorrow is another day, after all. No matter how much we wish to change the progression of time, time only knows one direction.


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