How to Cope With Regret and Move Forward

Despite the cliched platitudes about living life with no regrets, reality proves to be much different. It’s estimated that we make at least 35,000 decisions a day– with so many options available, regret is unavoidable.

The good news is that regret isn’t a bad or negative feeling. It’s a natural reaction everyone experiences. While regret feels uncomfortable, you can learn to harness it to care for yourself and better understand your needs and values. Here are some gentle suggestions to keep in mind.

Accept That It’s Normal (And Okay) to Feel Regret

Regret is a typical part of life. We all sometimes ruminate about past mistakes or wish we had acted differently in certain situations. Acceptance requires courage, but it largely means acknowledging that you can only focus on the present moment right now.

In fact, it can be argued that no regrets has its own cost. It may indicate that you always stay in your comfort zone and avoid taking necessary risks. This, in turn, may actually cultivate its own sense of regret.

Think About What You’ve Learned

Regret can be a powerful teacher. Sometimes overcoming regret involves reflecting on why a specific situation caused such emotional pain. Are you newly divorced and looking back angrily at the wasted time you spent on your former partner? Do you feel frustrated by how others’ mistakes affected your life trajectory?

Take some time to think about what really went wrong. Then, take a deep breath. Remember that you are a perfectly imperfect human, like everyone on this planet. Making mistakes does not make you a bad person. However, you can learn from past errors to consider how you might respond differently in the future.

Make Amends

Sometimes regret involves responsibility; if you realize you have hurt someone, apologizing is the first step to making things right. While you can’t undo past actions, you can nurture your relationships by holding yourself accountable for your mistakes.

Above anything, it’s important to acknowledge your part without defensiveness. You can’t control how other people feel, but you can express that what you did was wrong, and you can also state your desire to repair any tension.

Amends should be direct, genuine, and without any attached pressure to forgive you. That said, it’s never too late to apologize, and doing so may be one of the greatest gifts you offer to someone you care about.

Cultivate More Self-Compassion

Most of us experience the natural tendency of self-blame or animosity when we make mistakes. But has shaming yourself ever really worked? Maybe. But probably not.

If you practice self-compassion, you might find that it’s easier to experience regret without attaching such strong negativity to your emotions. This is a gentle way to forgive yourself and accept your own limitations. It’s also a way to acknowledge that you feel bad without jumping to conclusions that you’re this bad, awful person.

Sometimes it helps to put your past choices into context. We all generally try to make the best decisions with the information and resources we have. In hindsight, it’s easy to label something as the wrong decision, but this type of self-judgment doesn’t make space for the many internal and external factors that often play into making choices.

Orient Your Regret to Shift Into Your Values

What do you value the most in life? Which people, passions, and needs are most important to you?

People are likely to feel regretful when they act in ways that feel incongruent with their values. For example, maybe your family feels most important to you. But perhaps you spent several months putting work ahead of your family, causing you to miss some significant family events. A loved one died, and you regret that you didn’t spend more time with them.

Unfortunately, reflecting on regret can’t change what happened. However, you might be able to mitigate certain types of future regret by really cinching in your values.

Moving forward, if you orient life to integrate your values, you will likely focus on prioritizing your family as much as possible. This may not help you avoid regret entirely (you’re only human, and work will still need to be attended to!), but acknowledging missed opportunities or past mistakes can help you really focus on what you most prioritize in this life.

Therapy for Feeling Regret and Limiting Future Regrets

Some regrets can feel larger than life, and regret can also coincide with other difficult emotions like shame, guilt, sadness, anger, confusion, and loneliness. However, regret serves such a crucial purpose- it can help you better understand yourself and your needs. Harnessing regret can also help you feel more aligned with how you live moving forward.

However, if you’re feeling stuck in choices made months or years ago, therapy can help. It’s important to learn how to forgive yourself and reconcile regret. Therapy can help you take care of your mental health and put you on a path of deep healing. Wherever you are in your journey, I would be honored to walk with you.

Please contact me today to get started.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.