Endlessly revisiting what happened in the past, beating yourself up for the bad things that you’ve done won’t change anything. It certainly won’t make the events or actions go away. Yet the pattern of wallowing in remorse, guilt, shame and self-loathing doesn’t have to continue. Here are some tips on overcoming remorse that may help.
1. Work on becoming healthier.
Flooded with toxic thoughts and emotions takes a toll on your body. Before you can begin to heal from the effects of remorse, you need to take action to restore your health. If you used drugs and alcohol as a crutch to deal with the pain, these also contributed to your current poor physical and mental state.
If you sincerely desire to make positive changes, the first step is to detoxify your body. Go into drug rehab if the need is severe and you can’t do it on your own. Otherwise, make it a point to eat nutritious foods, get sufficient sleep, hydrate often with water, and engage in regular vigorous physical exercise. It may take a few weeks or longer to get back to health, but a healthier body will greatly improve your ability to get past remorse.
2. Develop new habits.
Analyze how you’ve spent your days with a particular emphasis on what you’ve done to numb the ache of remorse. Facing up to the reality that you’ve used unhealthy coping mechanisms isn’t easy, but it is necessary in order to get to the point where you recognize that you need new and healthier habits to replace them. Part of this process may require training from a professional and include behavior modification, individual and group treatment, outpatient counseling and self-help groups and manuals.
3. Restore your spirit.
After being battered by long months of struggling with remorse, your spirit is likely at its lowest ebb. The unfortunate correlation of drug and alcohol abuse with engaging in illegal, unethical and immoral acts also contributes to tremendous guilt and shame.
Learning how to heal from the damaging effects of remorse is best accomplished with the help of a professional counselor or therapist. You need to learn not only that it’s fruitless to beat yourself up over the past, but also that you can choose a path toward spiritual renewal. In this, you don’t need to be religious. What is necessary is a realization that it’s absolutely vital to rebuild your spirit in order to cope with remorse.
4. Activate your sense of self-discovery.
Remorse doesn’t only sap your physical body. It also wreaks havoc on your emotional state. Instead of looking forward to daily activities and learning new things, you spend most of your time in a state of stagnation. There is no joy, no self-discovery, no excitement about much of anything. A trained therapist can help guide you in the process of rehabilitation and self-discovery.
5. Commit to a change in lifestyle.
To successfully cope with and overcome feelings of remorse, you’ll have to take into account the fact that certain people, places, times and events trigger those negative emotions. Most likely, you’ll need to find new friends, avoid the situations and locations that remind you of painful memories and fill you with remorse.
6. Join a group with similar goals.
If you’re in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, or compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping or another process addiction, or have a diagnosis of co-occurring mental health and substance abuse, a big part of your recovery will involve participation in recovery groups. This will continue long after your formal treatment program concludes.
But group participation is also highly recommended for anyone who’s working to overcome remorse. It doesn’t have to be a recovery group, however. Any group that shares similar goals or helps you pursue an activity or interest will benefit your desire to get past remorse.
7. Pay special attention to family.
Often it’s the people who know you the best and care for you most that can really jumpstart the healing process. They’re often also the ones you tend to shy away from, fearing criticism, negativity and dredging up the past. It’s important to make full use of your loved ones and family members, as they are instrumental in helping to affirm your commitment to living a healthier and happier life. Just because some issues and memories are painful doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile working through them with the help of your family.
8. Seek to embrace life.
Along with a concerted effort to work on becoming healthier, beginning new habits, replenishing your spirit, allowing yourself to discover what’s good and interesting to pursue, committing to lifestyle changes, joining groups with similar interests and being mindful of the importance of family, there’s one final tip that can help you move past remorse. In order to achieve a purposeful life, filled with opportunities and self-fulfillment, you must seek to embrace life.
After working on creating positive steps and taking the actions necessary to achieve them, life starts to look different. It’s no longer bleak and monotonous. Instead, life-affirming thoughts, dreams and plans will replace the self-destructive ones you’ve lived with so long. With a commitment and enthusiasm to embrace life, your path forward will lead you in directions you will find unexpected and delightful.
As for how long it will take to successfully overcome remorse, bear in mind that each day is another opportunity to make progress toward healthy change. Live in the present. Put forth your best effort in whatever you do. Surround yourself with people who are positive and share your values. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Above all, be grateful that you have this day to make all the choices you want.