As we enter this brand-new year, holiday cookies have grown stale, the festive party lights have faded and we are ready to write our resolutions, eager for self-improvement and forward motion.
However, looming in the background for some of us are unspoken regrets and unfinished business we wish we could move past.
Regret, that troubling emotion that causes us to look back and ask painful "What if?" questions, to rehearse our bad behavior or absence of good choices in the past, and to writhe with guilt or sorrow over missed opportunities, is something most of us can relate to at some point in our lives.
The pain of regret can be so debilitating that it cycles in and out of one's life, triggered by all sorts of statements and events that jar the memory and bring it to life again. But you should know that regret is not unique to you, and it doesn't make you the worst person on the planet for suffering from it, though at times it may feel that way.
Some of people's biggest regrets were highlighted in a survey done by psychologist more than 300 Americans and asked them about their biggest regrets. The winners are as follows: romance, family , education, career, money, and parenting.
Not surprisingly, those without a significant other had the biggest romantic regrets and those with less education had the most educational regrets.
The sting of inaction over time and lost opportunity as a result seemed to drive in feelings of regret the most. People with family regrets often wish they had not been mean to siblings while young, or they may ruminate about what was not said, done or resolved before a loved one passed away.
Believe it or not, regret, in its short-term form, provides powerful life lessons. It reminds us that our actions have power, and that we should use that power for good. If forces us to acknowledge our weaknesses and to strengthen them.
Regret teaches us to be more mindful in the present moment, to slow down, to choose wisely, because split-second decisions really do matter.
To feel regret means we have set a standard for ourselves and somehow failed to meet it, and that we need to either examine the standard for practicality or our own character to understand why certain choices were made. It shows us how much we love people and respect ourselves.
However, the big baby of regret is much too heavy to carry around all the time. At some point, we must set him down and teach him to walk away from us. Left unattended, regret can paralyze us by hindering our progress forward, eating away at our self-concept through guilt and tempting us toward self-punishment.
We must take action to move past regret. Is there anything you can do now to improve a situation? Can you ask someone's forgiveness? Pay something forward? Do something creative with your emotions? Then by all means, do so.
Do you still have hopes, dreams or even obligations that you have yet to plunge into? Take a risk and try, remembering that mistakes are part of the journey.
Seek accountability and encouragement to move forward. For things that cannot be changed, learn to forgive yourself and find meaning in the circumstances of your life. Choose to look for new opportunities to make positive choices. Focus on bringing more love and joy to others. And most importantly, expect good things ahead.
Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.