I reflect at times on certain choices I have made throughout my life – things I have done or said to people that I am not particularly proud of. These are the memories that make me wish I could go back in time and change things – or at least talk sense into the ‘past versions’ of myself. But I can’t. All that I am left with are haunting memories that ignite in me stinging emotions of guilt and regret, and at times, self-loathing. Essentially, these are the memories that serve to remind me how much of a fucking idiot I was – or rather, a “fucking asshole”, if this earlier post has any merit.
At the surface, these shitty memories do little for my mental wellness, to say the least. In fact, guilt (and regret) is one of the (neurovegetative) symptoms of depression that medical professionals look for when diagnosing mental illness. Needless to say, unresolved guilt becomes an anchor that restrains any effective progress toward mental healing/wellness. So it begs the question: how do we lift the anchor and move on when haunted by regretful memories?
The following 3 steps have enabled me to reconcile guilt-induced experiences:
The first step is a bit of a pride-buster, but it is to fully accept responsibility for your actions and resulting consequences. It was your choice to say what you did or do what you did, so stop blaming others and your conditions. You fucked up, now accept it and move on!
Ok, so Step 1 does little to make you feel less shitty about what you did, however it does position you mentally for Step 2: Apologize, sincerely! Though this step is a bit harder than the first, it will lift some of the weight off the shoulders. This step requires a good deal of emotional intelligence (which means you consciously bypass defensive emotions and make the value-based choice to apologize for your wrongdoing). This part shouldn’t be too difficult considering that you stripped away your pride in Step 1.
By expressing remorse and apologizing sincerely, you demonstrate to yourself, the ‘victim’ and if applicable, society that you’ve accepted responsibility for your actions and are prepared to face the consequences.
Important: Now it’s time to pick up some of the pride you left on the floor and smear it back on – to protect yourself. Depending on the circumstances, forgiveness may be granted, or it may not. Regardless, it is important to recognize that humans are creatures of emotion, not logic. As much as an apology requires emotional intelligence to deliver, so too does granting forgiveness. Hence, the ball is in their court when you apologize. What they do with it, recognize, it’s out of your control. If they accept it, then feel the relief of a million pounds lifted off your shoulders. But, if they throw it back in your face and tell you to go to fucking hell, then you are positioned to bask in the hot tub of awkwardness.
Recognize at this point, you did all that you can do. You can’t go back in time to undo your blunder. All that you have at your disposal is the Present and the Future – which segues into Stage 3: Learn from your mistakes! In other words, you have the privilege to apologize in the Present; and the opportunity to take what you’ve learned (from your mistakes), and use it to make you better in the Future. Again, the “fucking asshole” post provides a deeply personal example about the power of apology and learning from mistakes (which, in that particular post, is to never want to plant another weed in a relationship ever again!).
So in summary: You did a shitty thing; you apologized in the present; and you’ve committed to leveraging this regretful experience to make you better in the future. Great! Now I’m going to leave you with one more perspective to think about:
No one person has any right to deprive you of your human opportunity to learn and grow from making mistakes (it will benefit everyone in the long-run). Do these three things, then forgive yourself!