Day 13: Let it Be

Authors Note:  This is the 13th entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

Here’s today’s post for our conversation:

9. Holding on to regrets and guilt. “I’m pretty anti-regret,” Lena Dunham said at the 2012 New Yorker Festival. Guilt and regret are two emotions that usually serve to torture the person feeling them. Acknowledge your regrets and guilts, and then move on to the best of your ability.

Friends, I agree with this entry in principle.  Regret and guilt will eat you alive, and serve no purpose other than to (as the post says) make the person feeling them absolutely miserable.  Continuing to wrestle with feelings of regret is simply an act of futility; wrestling with feelings of guilt is either self-imposed torture or it’s a signal that you need to heal a relationship – either with yourself or with someone else.  And unfortunately, women tend to hold on to feelings of regret and guilt far more frequently – and with more intensity – than men.

I struggle with it – especially when it comes  to the many times I’ve hurt myself.  I have said some of the most awful things to myself – sometimes out loud, and sometimes in my own head. I’ve held grudges against people because I simply couldn’t see past my own anger and hurt to try and find a solution or a resolution – even if my role in the situation was minimal.  I’ve beat myself up for not stepping forward and trying something I wanted to do.  In short – I’ve dwelled in long periods of regret and guilt.  Face it – we all have.

However, I fundamentally disagree with the post that simply acknowledging regrets and guilt will allow you to move on.  Seriously – come on.  I can name a few things I’m not quite proud of, and perhaps some things that I still carry around feelings of guilt and/or regret about.  I’ve acknowledged them – but that’s not all I need to do.  I believe there are three additional steps you need to take in order to really leave any regret and guilt behind.

  1. After naming/acknowledging the feeling – you have to figure out your part in it.  Did you intentionally wrong someone?  Did you hurt someone’s feelings?  Are you fighting back feelings of complete insecurity and feeling guilty over some of your own behaviors?  You have to figure out what you did – if anything – before you can move forward.  This can be hard – especially when the person you’ve hurt is yourself.
  2. Try and right any wrong you may have done.  You’ve heard the saying that it’s never too late for a thank you note?  I believe it’s never too late for a genuine apology.  However, the longer you go without apologizing, the harder it can be for the other person (or even yourself if the person you hurt is actually you) to hear the apology and accept it.  Don’t forget – other people are dealing with their own stuff, too.  So pull up your big girl pants, and go apologize.  Even if it turns out badly, you at least gave it a try and can move forward to the next thing.
  3. You have to forgive yourself and let it go.  Now that you’ve figured out your role in the situation, and have made your attempt to resolve the situation, you have to let it go.  Forgiveness is truly the only way.  If someone apologizes to you – forgiving them is really the only way to let go of any hurt they’ve caused you.  Likewise, forgiving YOURSELF for any hurt you’ve caused yourself will be absolutely critical for moving on.

That last thing – forgiving yourself – is So. Freaking. HARD!   But without forgiveness, you will never be able to release the hurt and anger, and you will never be able to heal.  You will carry around the baggage of hatred, fear, and frustration until you are  crushed under the weight of its negativity.  Give forgiveness a try.  You may not get it right the first time – it can take practice – but persistence is key and you’ll eventually be able to put that baggage down for a while; maybe even permanently.

Trust me – your life’s journey will feel so much lighter when you do.

(and as a bonus – when you do – or even if you’re still trying to make it to this point – take a listen to Pharrell Williams “Happy”.  I dare you not to dance!)