Here’s How to Stop Being a Prisoner of Regret
“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.” –– Rick Warren
Regret — whether for things that you have done or things that you had no control over — can keep you frozen in the past, unable to move forward. Sadly, there are no magic wands that can turn back the hands of time and change what has happened, but despite this I believe we’re not entirely powerless to affect the past, after all.
I first began thinking about this when my daughter was young and having serious ongoing problems with fear. She wasn’t able to go to school or to be separated from me for any length of time.
I really could sympathize with her. As an adoptee from Korea, I knew that she had been relinquished by her mother at birth, placed in an orphanage, then with a foster mother, and ultimately taken from that woman to make the long journey to America and her “forever” family — but not without a whole lot of emotional baggage onboard.
I wished with all my heart that I could have been with her through those first months so that she would have known that she was safe and loved. I was sure that was the root of her troubles now, but no amount of safety in the present seemed to make up for the lack of it in her past. It seemed there was nothing I could do about her rocky start in life.
Or was there?
Being a meditator, and someone who is comfortable with visualizations, one day I had the idea to try simply “re-writing” her past.
I visualized myself in the birthing room with Lia, taking her tiny body into my arms and telling her how much I loved her, that she was safe, and that I was waiting for her. I also whispered in her birth mother’s ear that I would take good care of her daughter, and that everything was going to be all right.
The visualization felt wonderful, and I repeated it many times, going on to visualize myself at my daughter’s side through all of the other changes she went through in those scary first months of her life.
Whether or not I was actually impacting my daughter, I certainly found these visualizations helpful! I felt I was somehow able to make up for what she had missed out on and, over time, I really think it did help Lia to overcome her fear (although I’d never be able to prove it).
Perhaps it was only because my energy had changed, which affected her in turn. At any rate, she gradually seemed to relax and gain the confidence that had eluded us through so many years and so many other attempts to help her feel safe.
Since then, I’ve used my “time travel” meditation in many other circumstances. For instance, I think every parent has had lapses of control that we deeply regret in hindsight. I vividly remember once losing my temper with Lia as a toddler, for breaking an item that was precious to me. As she grew older and seemed so intent on always being perfect, I wondered sadly how much I had contributed to her fear of “messing up.”
So again, I went back to that remembered situation in a visualization. Obviously, I couldn’t change the fact that I had yelled at her, but I visualized surrounding her in love and whispering that everything was okay — she hadn’t done anything wrong.
In my imagination, we watched my earlier self yelling, and I told her, “She’s just tired, poor thing. She’s not really mad at you, she’s mad at herself. Let’s just send her some love.” And we did.
As before, I have no idea whether my visualization actually had an impact on Lia’s perfectionism (I hope it did), but it certainly helped me feel more compassion and less shame regarding my past actions.
On yet another occasion, I mentally placed a retroactive bubble of love and protection around Lia when she was facing a scary situation that I hadn’t known about at the time. There are literally endless scenarios for tweaking things in the past, so don’t go too crazy with this! Save it for the situations that really weigh on your heart.
These techniques work equally well even if you aren’t a parent. You can mentally send the adult version of yourself back into your childhood to provide love and support to your earlier self.
Children are especially vulnerable, since they have so little understanding of the true context of what is happening. We all remember times when we felt alone and frightened. How wonderful to take that scared child in your arms and let her know it will all be okay; that she isn’t truly alone.
Although it’s tempting to imagine different outcomes for those painful times, I try to always stay true to what actually happened and simply provide whatever energetic support seems best. For better or worse, we are the product of these experiences; they are a part of who we are. But it may be possible to heal some of the wounds they left behind, even many years down the road.
Does it really work? We know so little about time, but quantum physics gives us some understanding of how slippery a concept it is. At the very minimum, these techniques bring present comfort and a sense of being able to help what previously seemed beyond help.
The feeling of powerlessness to change the past is one of the most corrosive aspects of regret. Even if it is only “imaginary,” the sense of efficacy we get from taking some retroactive action is priceless.
For very traumatic situations, especially ones that you have not already explored in therapy, I would definitely recommend first trying these techniques with a therapist. However, most of us have a long list of garden-variety regrets we could safely use “time travel” meditation to address.
To begin, simply relax and breathe deeply, gently allowing the situation to come into your awareness. Let your intuition be the guide, and use any words, color, light or other visualizations that occur to you. (As a general rule, you can never go wrong by simply blanketing the experience with love and compassion.)
Don’t force yourself to feel forgiveness if that isn’t what you feel — if there is some antagonist involved, you can safely just ignore him or her and concentrate on providing comfort to the one who needs it. Remember that you are the “wise adult” in this scene – there to provide perspective and support – not justice or retribution.
Continue to breathe deeply and notice whatever emotions arise. Close the meditation when it feels complete, and return as often as you like! Sometimes once will be enough; sometimes (as with Lia’s birth) it will take many sessions to feel complete. Again, let your intuition be your guide.
Be respectful if you use the technique on other people or situations that you didn’t personally experience. I felt close enough to Lia to insert myself into that scene, but I would hesitate to do so in most other situations. I also shared with her what I was doing and, even though she was still fairly young at the time, I think she loved the idea that her mommy was there, at least in spirit, at her birth.
Although it’s true that “what’s past is past,” it may be possible that we don’t need to leave it at that. I believe we can send our love and our energy through time and, in the process, perhaps heal ourselves of painful regret.
This post is courtesy of Tiny Buddha.
Guest Author, P. (2018). Here’s How to Stop Being a Prisoner of Regret. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 12, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/heres-how-to-stop-being-a-prisoner-of-regret/