It is very common for midlife women to look back on their life and experience regret. Regrets are normal. Everyone struggles with the idea that they should have done things differently. It can be as simple as: “I regret buying a little dog that barks insanely!” Or in the a bit more intense category: “Eyelid tattoos? Hells YES! “
The heavier end of the scale it might look something like this: “ I regret breaking up with that person. I wish I knew then what I know now about myself and what it takes for a healthy relationship to work”.
A couple months ago, in one of my grad school classes, we did a project that was based on interviewing senior citizens about their lives. One of our questions was the following:
What are your soft regrets?
We called it “soft regrets” because we wanted choices that altered life paths, things that were under their control and experiences that could be measured. The most common responses were the regrets of not pursuing more education and wishing relationships had been different. Typically, men wished for a different result from a love relationship and women regretted not continuing their education.
That small sample of data supports that idea that at end of life people are focused on relationships and experiences, both achieved and those seemingly lost. The studies done on the dying are clear, no one wanted more hours at the office!
In my life, I have experienced both types of soft regrets. An early love relationship that I left under pressure from family, and the midlife awakening of my desire to pursue more education to develop a career. There have been hours, that have turned into days, where I have mourned the choices I made both in love and career. Sure, those were important feelings to experience and express, but in the end, I can’t go back. And you can’t either.
So, how do we deal with regrets in midlife?
First, admit you have regrets- some of us hate to consider the idea that we were wrong. Our egos want to protect us from saying we made a bad choice. Give it up people! We have all made bad choices, from fashion to finances to fiancées. Give yourself permission to admit you made a bad choice.
Name it- I feel sorrow because I didn’t marry ________ when he/she asked me. I wish I would have had the confidence to ______________ when they asked me to. Allowing yourself to verbally OUT LOUD state your soft regret is part of the healing process. In the therapy world, we call it “Name it = Tame It”. The globe will not stop spinning when you say what is really in your heart and thoughts. Actually, when we speak it, it becomes more manageable and then we can begin to process the regret.
Feel the grief – Part of any healing process is allowing yourself to grieve real or perceived loss. Love lost, opportunity that you walked away from, jobs you didn’t get, bad legal decisions, the times you didn’t stop and think about anyone but yourself. Grief is part of our operating system for a reason, it serves the purpose of releasing the inner anguish we all have. Each grief process looks different, don’t get attached to the idea that you have to cry to be grieving. Grief is often expressed as anger toward yourself and at times, directed at others. Be aware that grief can look like depression, and at times, can open the door to a depressive season. Check your emotional responses, be aware of your thoughts and make sure you get some professional help if you find yourself stuck in grief.
Last, and the most important part- Forgive yourself. We all know the expression about bitterness- Bitterness is like drinking rat poison and hoping the other person dies- Well, if you don’t forgive yourself you will find parts of your life dying. Unforgivness against oneself affects every area of your life, love relationships, work and at times, your finances. Everything! When you don’t forgive yourself, you hold yourself hostage to an earlier, dumber version of you. Basically you trade all of todays joy for constantly living in the past, perpetually bathing yourself with a bucket of pain, never feeling the newness that self forgiveness brings.
We all have regrets in life.
Here’s the thing about life: we all have regrets. We regret actions, words, idea and choices. And for some of us, we convince ourselves that participating in self punishment will somehow right our wrongs.
Let me save you decades of therapy, forgive yourself. With great frequency. Have mercy on the younger self who made dumb decisions based on a faulty operating system. Release the shame of bad broken choices, you are not that person any longer.
Regret will steal the best years of your life you let it.
Instead use your energy to love, forgive and crate the live you wish to have.