By Ox Drover
“The Road Not Taken” is always out there beckoning to us. I should, I could … Why did I do that? Why didn’t I do that? Regrets!
Having been involved with a psychopath, and reeling from the devastation in the wake of the relationship, leads us to ask ourselves what might have happened if we had made other choices.
I question myself—if I had chosen differently, would the relationship have been a success? If I had dated John or Frank instead of the psychopath, would I now be happily married in a solid relationship? If I had just done things differently, like I started to, would it have been better? If I had just gotten out of the relationship sooner, or later, would I now be better off?
With our regrets, we beat ourselves up for being so stupid to put up with the abuse. We saw the red flags of suspicion early on, felt the sting and pain of his words, his disrespect, yet, now we regret not paying attention to ourselves back then. How much better our lives would have been if we had only listened to our own intuition, to the things we really knew, really saw, but brushed aside, thought we could fix.
We searched for the words, the perfect words, to explain to him how he was hurting us. Why couldn’t we find those perfect words, the ones we were so sure would make him treat us better?
Regret is normal
Regret in the past choices we have made in life: Go to work and get married, or go to college and get an education. Have children, or wait. According to those who study regrets, having regrets as we mature is a normal, natural and a universal human emotion. Neal Roese, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Illinois says, “Regret is a very complicated emotion that involves all these things (pain and fear) coming together—it’s raw feeling plus all the complicated imaginings of future possibility.”
Another psychology professor, Carsten Wrosch, Ph. D., at Concordia University in Montreal, has linked regrets to many physical and social problems, which include sleeping problems, headaches, migraines, panic disorder and even skin conditions.
Henry David Thoreau said, “To regret deeply is to live afresh.”
If we continually dwell on our past mistakes and missed opportunities, this consumes our ability to live and enjoy the present. Letting go of regrets though, is not a one-time event; it is a process of disentangling ourselves from them.
One of the ways suggested to start to let go of our regrets over past decisions is to consider it final. I find that when I have a decision to make, once I finally decide that decision is final, anxiety about making that decision seems to go away. Looking at that decision later, whether it turned out to be good or bad, I am more able to accept it.
People who study regrets and decision making also note that if we can “fix” a past mistake or correct it, our regrets tend to hang on longer and be stronger, but if we accept the fact that we made a bad decision that can’t be fixed, we tend to let go of it more easily.
Having regrets for past decisions, and especially regrets related to our relationship with the psychopath(s) in our lives, is normal and natural. As long as we hang on to those regrets and try to second guess ourselves, though, it impedes our healing and moving on.
Letting go of those regrets, the self-recrimination for our part in the relationship, for not finding the perfect solution, for not leaving sooner, or any of a thousand other choices we made, will be an ongoing process. But it will lead us, if we let it, to using those choices to make a better life for ourselves now and in the future.