Episode #30 of The Still Space Podcast - Regret and Forgiveness
With Executive Coach Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE
Regret and Forgiveness go hand in hand. Regret is the sadness and disappointment we feel after something has happened that we think we could have managed differently for a better outcome. Regret can be enlightening. We can learn from mistakes. Regret, however, can become debilitating when we obsess over our role in the situation with guilt, sorrow and shame. We seek to atone but it isn’t possible, making us even more restless and unhappy.
Forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness or not.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the “would have-should have-could have” trap. It is a dead-end full of anger, self-loathing, denial, exhaustion, resentment, unrest and unhappiness that goes nowhere but, in a circle, gaining speed and intensity around every bend. You might be seeking to alter the course of history which is impossible. You might be seeking acceptance from someone who won’t give it. You might be seeking a do-over that cannot be redone. The point is you are seeking. Anytime we seek we are unhappy. It’s another treadmill to nowhere.
Regret calls for forgiveness to heal and move on. Sometimes that forgiveness is for another person or group of people who have done you harm. Sometimes forgiveness is for a situation out of your control.
Almost always in order to heal regret you must forgive yourself. This is most essential. You would forgive a good friend who hurt you. This is a time to be a friend to yourself for not being perfect. You may have made a mistake. You may have missed an opportunity that cost you or someone else dearly. You may not be forgiven by someone you care about it and it hurts.
Sometimes when you forgive another person, you aren’t necessarily doing it for them, but for you. Whether you are forgiving another person or yourself you make a conscious commitment not to carry around the negative emotions that weigh you down. You let those damging sentiments go because its healthier for you.
If I had not forgiven my mother or my ex-husband and his family, I’d have never found love again or developed healthier relationships with everyone in my life. It took a lot of soul searching on my part. It took a lot of humility to admit my part and my mistakes. It was the best exercise of my life. I have drawn on the process more than once to get through difficult situations.
To heal regret and move to forgiveness:
1. Reflect on the situation.
2. Acknowledge your true feelings under the surface. Are you hurt, angry, feeling rejected, alone, judged?
3. What do you fear is the worst thing that will happen? What is true and what is an assumptions here?
4. Own your part in the situation. What might you have wanted to do differently knowing what you now know.
5. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What are/were their feelings? Can you understand (not necessarily agree with) their motivation?
6. What is this situation trying to teach you? How does your ego get in the way?
7. What, if anything, do you want to say to the other person?
8. Forgive yourself. Show yourself kindness. Put your hand to your heart. What would you say to a friend in this situation?
9. Decide where you want to go from here.
Your Self-Care and Compassion
I used to think self-care was my bubble bath or reading my self-help books after a crisis moment. While these provided a breath of fresh air they weren’t helping me to deal with raw emotions in the moment.
Do you see self-care as after-care? Do you wait until the let-down, crisis, or doubt sets in and then try to play catch-up to snap you out of feeling inadequate. Do you think there is something wrong with you because this pattern keeps happening to you?
You deserve better. And only you can give yourself that. Revisit the Mindful Daily Practices section of this book.
It’s freeing to be able to see the hurt coming, slow down, and be still. Still. Understand that things come and go. Emotions come and go. The important thing is to accept them all. Nod at them. Embrace them all - not turn away in fear. Then you can choose to do with them what you want verses being controlled by them.
Fear will consume you to the point of convincing you that you don’t want to feel it. Yet it does nothing but grow. As a matter of fact, fear will eventually convince you to start judging yourself for not being able to turn down its volume.
Versus stepping back to say, “I am feeling (afraid, nervous, anxious, shame, judgment).” And getting curious. “What am I afraid of?” Then you can unpack it and realize it’s really nothing but your imagination running its course. This is self-compassion. This is self-care.
Either you choose what to do with fear or your ego will take over because it is a survivor and its sole role is to keep you safe by making you risk averse.
We don’t adopt mindful daily practices just for the moments we do them. We meditate, pray, read daily inspirations, take mindful walks where we notice our surroundings not ruminate past situations because these routines slow our minds so that we may be still in even the most stressful circumstances.
A still mind creates a space to be more self-aware of our thoughts and behaviors.
This is the space of self-care and compassion.
When you have compassion for yourself you will grow compassion for others. And vice versa. Compassion is natural; you don't have to force it; just open to the difficulty, the struggle, the stress, the impact of events, the sorrow and strain of a situation. You can open this for yourself and for others. Open your heart, let yourself be moved, and let compassion flow through you.
Start with your body. It gets you out of the confusion in your head. Feel what self-compassion is like in your body – in your chest, throat, and face. Sense the way it softens your thoughts, gentles your reactions. Know it so you can find your way back again. When you have compassion for yourself you can feel compassion for others.
When you accept yourself, the world will accept you too.
Moments of compassion come in the flow of life – maybe a friend tells you about a loss, or you can see the hurt behind someone's angry face, a hungry child looks out at you from the pages of a magazine, a friend tells you of their grief at the loss of their loved one. If you can’t manage how that may at first make you feel uncomfortable – how you’d rather skim over it – you will not have a genuine feeling of compassion for others. You will turn away in discomfort. This is why self-compassion and external compassion grow in unison. If you can be still with the discomfort for a few moments and allow it to be there you can unpack it. “This is just me feeling uncomfortable. They must feel terribly uncomfortable too.”
Here are some calming and connection building techniques:
• Relax and tune into your body.
• Remember the feeling of being with someone who cares about you.
• Bring to mind someone it is easy to feel compassion for.
• Put your compassion into words, softly heard in the back of your mind, such as:
"May you not suffer . . . may this hard time pass . . . may things be alright for you."
• Expand your circle of compassion to include others; consider a friend, someone who has been kind to you, a neutral person, a difficult person (a challenge, certainly), and yourself (sometimes the hardest person of all).
• Go further. Extend the intention of compassion to all the beings in your family . . . neighborhood . . . city . . . state . . . country . . . world. All beings, known or unknown, liked or disliked. Humans, animals, plants, even microbes. Beings great or small, in the air, on the ground, underwater. Including all, omitting none.
• Go through your day, open to compassion from time to time for people you don't know: someone in a deli, a stranger on a bus, crowds moving down the sidewalk.
• Let compassion settle into the background of your mind and body. As what you come from, woven into your gaze, words, and actions.
This mindset of loving kindness softens our hearts and makes us more connected to ourselves and others.