Regret can have a powerful hold on us. Our experiences of loss, heartache, and disappointment tend to stick with us and the negative consequences of our actions - or inactions - at times are often hard to shake. A critical piece of being able to let go of our deepest regrets is being able to make peace with ourselves. While I wish there was an easy prescription for doing this, there is no magic formula. But I believe in my heart that each of us has the ability to do it. We are each capable of putting an end to the torment of regret and moving on with our lives. Following is an example, adapted from my book No More Regrets! 30 Ways to Greater Happiness and Meaning in Your Life, that illustrates at a personal level what I mean by making peace with yourself.
My son, Blake, was born in the middle of a hurricane, literally as the eye of the storm passed over the hospital where my wife was giving birth. It was a scene that can only be described as chaotic: the hospital was already on backup generators due to flooding and a power outage, and we were on the only floor that hadn't been evacuated yet. Nurses were running around frantically as my wife begged for an epidural. Then, just as she was about to deliver, the doctor informed us that the umbilical cord was wrapped around our baby's neck. As he tried to remedy the situation, I could see signs of panic on his face. He reassured us that everything was fine, but our son was a deep blue color upon coming out of the womb.
All I remember is pleading to God to let this baby breathe. I can say without hesitation that I have never been so happy to hear a baby cry his lungs out. At that moment, I knew my son was resilient and determined to put up a fight, though I still wondered what impact the early trauma might have had on him. Did he stop breathing for too long? Would he be "normal"? I hated to think that way, but I kept torturing myself with the unknown.
As my son grew from an infant to a toddler, I continued to worry about him, even though his cognitive, social, and physical development was fine. Instead of celebrating his good health, I focused more on possible reasons for concern: he had chronic eczema that made him scratch his skin until it bled, he developed a severe nut allergy that resulted in a 911 call and a trip to the emergency room, he got bronchitis more frequently than most kids, and he needed breathing treatments for wheezing. Right or wrong, I attributed these symptoms to his precarious situation at birth, not to mention I couldn't shake the idea-however illogical-that I was partly responsible. Perhaps I could have done something to prevent the umbilical cord from getting wrapped around his neck. Maybe I should have moved my wife to a different hospital that wasn't in the direct path of a hurricane. I was haunted with regret every time I relived the experience in my head.
When Blake was almost five we took a family trip to Portland, and the itinerary included a visit to the famous outdoor market. Blake was insistent upon having his palm read by a woman at a table full of tarot cards, despite my attempts to lure him toward the cotton candy booth. Reluctantly I conceded, terrified that the palm reader might reveal something awful to my son about his health. At the conclusion of the reading my son called me over. To my surprise, he was all smiles. Then he ran off to find Mom while I paid the bill.
As I started to reach for my wallet, the palm reader grabbed me by the arm and stared into my eyes with captivating intensity. "You don't have to worry about him anymore," she said. "What happened to your son was a long time ago; he's going to be fine now. You can stop worrying, you'll see."
My jaw dropped. How did she know my secret? How did she know he was going to be okay? For some strange reason that I still can't explain, I believed her. Perhaps the sole reason our paths had crossed that day was for her to tell me that a guardian angel was watching over my son. The sense of relief I felt was overwhelming. I broke down crying right there in the middle of the crowded street, overcome with emotion and the revelation that I was no longer a prisoner to my feelings of worry and regret.
The key to getting over regret is learning how to release yourself from its grip. I believe my son was born in a hurricane because he can weather any storm. He is healthy, happy, smart, friendly, funny, courageous, athletic, and strong. I am no longer burdened with the weight of regret because I have let go of my emotional baggage from the circumstances of his birth. When we face what torments us, we put a stop to our inner turmoil. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Come to terms with your feelings of regret and don't beat yourself up over situations you can't control. Make peace with yourself and set yourself free from the past.
Marc Muchnick is the author of No More Regrets! 30 Ways to Greater Happiness and Meaning in Your Life. For more information go to: http://no-more-regrets.com/