Have you ever found yourself saying or thinking to yourself about any of these things? “It was a perfect opportunity; I should have told him/her how I felt.” “That didn’t go well; I could have handled it differently.” “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. I should have stopped when I was full.” “My intuition tried to tell me. I should have listened to it.” or “That dress would have been perfect. Why didn’t I buy it?”
If you have, you’re a part of the vast majority of people who suffer from the Could Have- Would Have-Should Have Syndrome, otherwise known as the Living with Regret Psychological Condition.
Regret is a difficult companion to live with psychologically because it undermines self-confidence and erodes the ability to trust our inner instincts. It causes us to question our decisions, even to the point of being unable to make decisions. It feeds self-doubt and mentally triggers fears and insecurities. Regret distorts how we see ourselves and limits not only our ability to achieve what we desire. It limits our potential. Regret feeds the story of not being enough and creates feelings of unworthiness and beliefs around not deserving.
Regret is emotionally fickle and can alter moods instantaneously. Its effect can be triggered at any time, and when it’s triggered, its impact can have lasting consequences, both physically and emotionally. Its presence immediately puts us unto victim consciousness. Regret triggers pessimism and contributes to many of the unhealthy attitudes we develop toward life. It robs us of happiness and joy. It’s a source of bitterness, cynicism, prejudice, hostility, and self-disappointment. It generates powerful negative emotions that drain us of energy, creates confusion, and can negatively impact our health.
Regret only sees life from one perspective – the past, and it uses the past to ensure we stay with what’s safe and familiar. Living in the past causes us to continually compare where we are now with where we’ve been—seeing our mistakes. Revisiting decisions that didn’t work out the way we had hoped—reminding us of our bad choices. Regret acts as a deterrent by creating mental barriers that inhibit our ability to take risks and try new things. It uses fear of failure to ensure we won’t fail over and over. Most importantly, regret keeps us from living in the present moment, precisely where we need to live to heal.
The More Experience. The More Regrets
The interesting thing about regret is that it isn’t a young people’s syndrome. It’s an aging phenomenon. The more experience. The more regrets. Think about it. When was the last time you heard a child say they regretted falling off their bicycle because they tried something new? Or listened to a teenager say they regretted getting busted for doing something crazy on TikTok? We don’t think about regret when we’re young and fearless. Life is what’s happening at the moment.
The gloomy pit of regret is full of what-ifs and whys. The emotional baggage we carry as a result of our regrets builds on itself, isolating us from ourselves and from the opportunity to experience life fully. Regrets keep us fearful of not wanting to repeat the same mistakes. Yet, the very nature of regret is that it causes us to repeat the same mistakes. It causes us to feel the same old emotional reactions and relive the same old emotional patterns. Regret keeps us in protection mode, not allowing us to be open and receptive to new relationships or change. It even blocks us from creating a healthy relationship with ourselves.
When young, if a relationship didn’t work out, it was easier for us to move on because we knew there would be others. As we experienced more failed relationships, the pit of regret grew, as did the need to protect our hearts. We became overly cautious and untrusting. We became critical and judgmental, thinking they would help us avoid being emotionally disappointed or hurt again. As a result, we block the very thing we need to free ourselves from regrets. Relationships.
The risk of regret is that it convinces the mind that it’s better to be safe than sorry and that it’s better to stick with the tried-and-true than to try something new. It’s better to seek only what’s familiar. It’s better to engage only in what’s predictable. It’s better to stay in our comfort zones. Even if that means accepting the mental limitations, regret creates.
Wiping the Regret Slate Clean
When I returned from my NDE, Near-death experience, I remember thinking how fortunate I was to get a second chance. A second chance to just be me. A second chance to change my ways. A second chance to let go of the regrets that caused me to hold myself back and that was responsible for creating the fear of failure that was constantly looming in my mind. A second chance to let go of the regrets that fed my need to be liked and to fit in, and that drove my need to be a people pleaser. I remember telling myself that I would commit to living my life differently if I got a second chance. And, in many ways, I have. Yet, as the years pass, the less I remember that vow and the easier it has become for the old regrets to creep back into my subconscious.
When regret enters my thinking, I, too, find myself comparing where I am today to where I was at 30 years old. At 30, I could bounce out of bed without my feet hurting or my back stiff. Now I can’t. Then, I remembered I’m not 30. Now, regret seeps in, and I lament that I should have treated my body better when I was younger and been more mindful of its needs. I, too, look back with regret and wish I had known then what I know today. I sure would have enjoyed those days more. I could have made better choices and should have been easier on myself rather than letting the unrealistic expectations of regret drive how I pushed my body. I could have stopped emotionally beating myself up, which as a Medical Intuitive, is the metaphor the Soul offers to help us understand why our body hurts and is stiff. Regret beats us up.
The Real Problem of Regret
The real problem with regret isn’t the negative emotions it creates. It’s the pessimistic attitudes that develop as a result of it. Unhealthy attitudes that limit how we think and influence what we believe. Attitudes that emotionally undermine how we feel about ourselves. Victim attitudes. Prejudice attitudes. Relationship attitudes, Not enough attitudes. Hostile attitudes. Life attitudes and body attitudes. All of these attitudes are tremendously draining and diminish our zest for living. They rob us of joy and happiness and keep us trapped in the comfort zones they create.
Pessimistic attitudes fixate on problems rather than finding solutions. They erode self-confidence and undermine self-trust. They cause us to believe that trying to change ourselves or a situation is pointless. They cause us to ask, “Why should I even bother?” Pessimistic attitudes are like falling into a deep, dark hole, and rather than trying to get out, we accept we’re in there, so we stop looking for a way to get out. As with regret, pessimistic attitudes are emotionally pointless because no good comes from them. There’s no personal satisfaction. No sense of accomplishment. No feeling of contentment. No sweetness in life and no passion for living. It’s an endless cycle of disappointments that creates resentment, frustration, sadness, guilt, shame, dread, despair, and stress.
We aren’t born with regret genes, nor are we naturally pessimistic. Both are the result of learned behavior. We’re conditioned to feel regret, and we’re taught that experiencing negative emotions is more normal than experiencing positive ones. Regret and pessimism are the results of living too much in the past.
Effects of Regret on the Body
More than anywhere else in the body, regret is felt the most in the stomach and digestive tract. The Soul metaphor of regret is that the past eats at us. Regret is the primary underlying contributor to gastric ulcers. Originally, ulcers were thought to be caused by too much hydrochloric acid and pepsin, which eat away the stomach’s mucus lining. However, researchers are now rethinking if that is the case. Some of the latest studies show some people have an “ulcer personality,” meaning they display predictable learned personality characteristics that make them prone to ulcers. These characteristics include excessive worrying, little social support, unrealistic expectations, self-criticalness, and reoccurring bouts of remorse and regret.
Let me share this story to show how regret has an incredible influence over the mind and the body. A client came to me to help him understand why he couldn’t heal his chronic Irritable Bowel Syndrome even though he was doing everything his doctor suggested. He wanted to know if there was something else he needed to look at. As we talked, he kept saying, “I’m sick and tired of my life. It’s never been what I wanted it to be.” When I asked him if he was aware of saying this repeatedly, he said he wasn’t. I shared how his being sick and tired of life had settled into his body in the form of regrets and pessimistic attitudes, and both were eating at him. As a medical intuitive, this is a common metaphor associated with digestive issues, one being Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
The more we discussed his life, the more agitated he became, and the more agitated he became, the more his stomach hurt. Then, it was as if a light bulb went off in his head because he realized that he regretted his life choices and even being born. He was 57 years old. That’s a long time to live with that kind of regret. It’s no wonder he was pessimistic about life. I shared that he might want to thank his body rather than hold a grudge against it because he was fortunate to be dealing only with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and nothing more serious. Fifty-seven years is a long time. I shared that rather than loathing himself, perhaps it would be helpful to redirect his attention to finding something he loves doing that will bring him a sense of personal satisfaction.
The moral of this story is two-fold. One is that our body reflects what we feel. If we think the worse will happen, it usually will. The second is that if we live with regret, it will eat us up.
Regret Proof Your Life
Let’s face it, we all live with some degree of regret. It’s part of the human experience, and it’s also a part of the journey to Know Thyself. However, regret doesn’t have to rule our lives or overwhelm us emotionally. We need to recognize it when it appears as Could Have, Would Have, or Should Have. If we recognize regret quickly, we can manage its impact on our decisions and choices. Here are some simple suggestions to help regret-proof your life.
Shift your perception of the past – Rather than using the past to compare where you are now with where you were, use it to help you see how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned about yourself. The past is a frame of reference, not a predictor.
Transform how you tell your story – We all have a story that influences how we feel about ourselves, and that limits who we are. Consistently, the story’s theme is “not enough.” The more you tell and retell your story, the more regrets form around it and the greater the limitations that hold you back. However, if you see the story as just that and not the truth about who you are, you can transform the regrets attached. Now, the story is benign. No truth. No limitations. No expectations. No negative emotions. Just a story. Just a source of information. Just someone else’s perceptions.
Stop Second Guessing Yourself – When you make decisions, they’re usually made based on the prevailing information at the time. Decisions tend to repeat themselves if the prevailing information is based on hindsight and regrets. However, your choices will differ if the information is based on foresight and change. Hindsight isn’t an originator. It’s an imitator.
Reclaim your dreams – You can’t change the past, but you can draw upon it to reclaim your dreams. Your dreams don’t die; they just get buried under the emotional minutia of regret. Search for them. Resurrect them. Reacquaint yourself with them. Cultivate them. Manifest them.
Laugh more – Regret is stagnant and heavy. Laughter is vital and light. Laughter keeps you engaged in the present moment. Regret keeps you wallowing around in the past. It’s hard to be serious and pessimistic when you’re having a good belly laugh. It’s even harder to take regret seriously.
Will these steps guarantee you an easy life? Probably not, but they will help rid you of regret. They will unearth the optimist inside you. They will help you be hopeful about life and confident that you can live your dreams.
©Copyright 2023 Carol Ritberger PhD and Ritberger Media Group