‘I should have …’‘I should never have …’‘I really wish I had …’‘I wish I hadn’t …’
We get so lost in trying to change the past. We know it’s impossible, yet regret hooks us, keeps us hooked and causes no end of pain. I speak from tortuous experience — for many years, my first thought as I woke up each morning was, ‘if only …’
What is it that hurts? Churning thoughts are relentless and repetitive. You find yourself back into the past. An inner voice tells you how you should have been so much better/smarter/nicer than you were?
The stories we tell ourselves feel like indisputable facts: we absolutelyshould have or should not have done whatever we did.
The experience of ‘I should have …’
Let’s dissect ‘I should (never) have’, ‘I wish I had(n’t)’ and ‘If only …’
Step 1 – you see a trigger: the thing you would have got if you had acted differently.
How about Bitcoin? You are sitting in a train and across from you is a newspaper headline ‘Bitcoin surges to all-time high’. You sold at 5,000 dollars. If you had held on, you never have to work again.
Your trigger might be a reminder of a relationship you damaged. It could be a memory of a bad financial decision, or even missing out on a great party. It’s anything that takes you back to a moment when you did something … that you now wish you hadn’t.
Step 2 – your body and mind create pictures, sounds and sensations.
Mental images appear of the people who do have the thing you missed out on. They are enjoying it, while you miss out. You feel dejected and lacking. You replay the moment when you made the fateful decision.
More pictures appear and thoughts of ‘I was so stupid — how could I not have known better?There might be a contraction in your body as you brace yourself against these painful thoughts. Now you are feeling the pain of self-betrayal and self-denigration.
In response, you might attempt to downplay the loss with thoughts like ‘maybe it’s not really that good’ or ‘maybe not doing it makes me superior”. By adopting these strategies, you will suffer the pain of separation and repression.
In my example above, it’s ‘I hate f’ing Crypto! It’s all rigged anyway.’
Step 3 – plan for change!
And then the icing on the cake is the ‘demand for future change’. You will tell yourself that you must do better next time so that you don’t have to suffer like this again. You get to work on plans to improve yourself and your decision-making capabilities. Good luck.
When I saw that headline, I felt sick, my stomach tightened, and my heart sank. I felt stupid, inadequate and terrified of the future.
‘I should (never) have …’ now, in this moment, is a collection of images, sensations and sounds. These come together to give us the experience we call ‘regret’ or something similar.
These are the synonyms for ‘regret’.
Not a comfortable read.
Even so, ‘I should (never) have…’ is not a fact, it’s a feeling.
Why does this matter? Because feelings can be released. By releasing feelings of regret, you can free yourself of the bind of the past.
How can you do that? The main technique I use is the Sedona Method. But I integrate this with other teachings and techniques. I use Polyvagal Theory to understand what is happening in the nervous system and Rapid Resolution Therapy (Jon Connelly) to undo the belief that I we change the past.
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