I’ve been thinking a lot about regret lately, and how good I am at being my own worst enemy. My mother says she never really needed to punish me, since whatever I put myself through was always worse than anything she could have done. Regret, and by extension shame, are two of the most difficult feelings to manage. I know I have brought up shame before. This is a big one though. The problem is that once something is done or said, there’s no way to go back and fix it. We can only move forward. I want to share an experience I’ve had, what I got from the experience, and what I hope for as I go on.
I have a family member I used to be very close to when I was little. As I grew into adulthood and embarked on my own life, we grew distant. I missed what we had, but felt that I didn’t know this person anymore, and therefore didn’t know how to fix it. I started making assumptions about this person’s feelings about me and my lack of importance to her. Big mistake.
When we did attempt to communicate, it usually dissolved into a a fight. Again, this was based on assumptions we were making based on the lack of communication. I know I said some things that I regret to this day. Then one day, something changed.
This person did me a huge favor. I was stunned. If I were in a different position, I might have even refused it, just so that I wouldn’t feel beholden to her. Talk about cutting off my nose to spite my face! Now, remember, the problems between us had stemmed from lack of communication. The day after the favor, I texted her to give her an update. We ended up chatting a little. It was nice, and the next day I texted her to say good morning, and tell her I hope she had a good day. From there, we started talking about our plans for the day. I started texting her every morning. We started talking. First it was little odds and ends about what we were up to, but then we started getting into the meat. We each said how much we’d wanted this, but didn’t know how to achieve it. Months later, we’re still at it. Most days it’s just little tidbits about our day. Sometimes we really need to talk something out though, but that’s what we do: we talk. I know that I don’t feel so defensive when she brings up an issue, because our relationship is so much more now than a laundry list of hurts. The tougher talks are balanced now with support, laughter, banality, concern, and love.
Something I ask people who are in conflict is this: Is your priority the relationship, or being right? While it’s not necessarily an either/or, it’s important to prioritize those two goals. It is vital to healthy relationships that each person take responsibility for their part. There are very few conflicts in which each party doesn’t have at least a part, no matter how small, in what is happening.
We are all going to make mistakes. It’s part of being human. Unfortunately, many of these mistakes will involve doing some sort of harm to another person, usually a loved one. Most of the time though, the mistake isn’t going to matter nearly as much as what we choose to do with it. If nothing else, there is always something to be learned. Always. Shame can be debilitating, especially when it’s about our relationships. The best tool I know to fix it is action. Do something about it. Even if it doesn’t fix the problem, it moves you from being a victim of your choices to a participant. You have no control of how another person is going to respond to your efforts, and that part can be really hard. But if you know you have done your part, then please stop losing sleep over it. It’s one thing to forgive someone else, but forgiving yourself is a whole different thing. Use mistakes and feeling of regret as motivation to learn and do better. That is the control you have over those painful situations. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a text to respond to.