Just as fear can freeze us, so can shame. The shame from regret will freeze us. Regrets can keep us stuck in the past just like unfelt fear and grief.
We are very familiar with sadness as one of our core emotions. The held back sadness builds in us like our national debt, creating future liabilities. When we do not feel the pain of a loss, we may think we are free. As we all discover from this work, there is no escape. We carry the pain with us, albeit maybe buried below our awareness in the soft tissue of our bodies.
Speaking of burying it, In 1982, I had a Rolfing session where I sobbed and shook for possibly an hour as I released old sadness. I do not recall any old memories coming up; I remember the recent trigger was how my clinic associates were treating me. In that moment, I could no longer hold on to repressing my sadness about not being appreciated.
As tough as the build-up of unfelt or unexpressed sadness can be, it can be released with relatively little catalyzing. Once my dam cracked, the water rushed out.
Regret is subtler.
We feel sad about a loss. We have regret from not acting and missed opportunities.
We often combine regret with shame because we did not act or did not act unsuccessfully. We freeze our emotions. We shame ourselves for the lack of the ‘right’ action(s). Both create rigidity, which can be the dam holding back a set of emotions.
My clinic colleagues could shame me because I trained myself that my value was in what I produced and having others like me. When they said what I did for them was not good enough and that they did not like me, I did my best to do what I learned to do well – I denied that I felt anything. Well, my Rolfer knew better. His caring and skill put the right crack in my dam of repression.
That experience set me on the journey of unpacking how I shamed myself about not doing the right thing and, more so, how I did not take advantage of opportunities. Even if the missed opportunity was not speaking up, I paid the price for missing it. Regretting my mistake taught me as a kid to avoid risk. You know what that created.
Because we do not get time back, missed opportunities can create a deep ache. I have sat with many men who did not tell a parent he loved them before they died. The regret, sadness, and shame became a heavy weight on their hearts.
Daniel Pink has an excellent 2:20 minute video about how to create your New Year’s resolution out of your year’s biggest regret. I suggest that everyone watch the video, list your regrets, and then choose your new resolution.
Slow down to experience your regrets. Let’s stop running from them and instead stop, turn, and face them. Feel what we so often run from. Where did you ‘fail?’ What did it feel like to not perform at the level you said you would – even if the only person who knew was you?
What opportunities did you miss? What does it feel like to never have those moments return? What is the habitual way you deal with that pain? Where do you feel the pain in your body?
You get it — use that one big regret to be a portal to other missed opportunities, regrets, and denied pain. Experience what it feels like to share what was withheld.
As I have said before, the antidote to shame is honor. If you share a shame, allow yourself to feel the honor of being a witness in your regret and pain. Take what was in the dark of repression into the light of acceptance.
What is a regret that can be a new goal for you? What are you willing to share that you hid?
I created a spreadsheet with three columns: failure, what caused it, and why I denied it. Then I went through my life and listed where I failed in business, relationships, health, school, sports, self-acceptance, and emotional expression. It will be a list that I will continue to add to. For now, my biggest failure that I have power over to change is asking for help.