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STEP FOUR: GRIEVING LOSSES
Your own regrets may be based on something that you missed through no fault of your own, such as loving parents. Perhaps you were physically or emotionally abused as a child, one of your parents abandoned you at an early age, or your parents were cruel or rejecting. Perhaps they were alcoholics or drug addicts or terribly poor or kept you from pursuing the career you desperately wanted. Perhaps they never gave you the support you needed, the education life demanded, or the upbringing you coveted. Perhaps you suffered from bad health, a physical impairment, or an emotional problem that cost you dearly, made you different from others, or restricted your potential.
Whatever the painful losses of your regrets may be, describe them in this journal entry. These are the losses you will grieve.
2. Grieve Your Losses
If you have not grieved the losses of your regret, begin by asking yourself which stage of grief you are in with this regret. When you have identified the stage, work on moving to the next stage. For example, if you are trapped in anger, work to give up the anger by opening yourself to the pain that lies beneath it. If you are in bargaining, work to accept that nothing you can do now will change the facts of your regret. If you are in grief, open yourself to that grief, to feeling the pain of your loss.
Use the spiritual and psychological tools to help you progress through the stages of grief. Pray for the courage to recognize that the events of the regret cannot be changed, to feel the pain of what happened, to find acceptance. Journal about your pain, your fear, your terrible sadness. Reveal how deeply it has hurt, how hard it has been to bear, how much you wanted it to be different. Journal about accepting what you cannot change, about looking for acceptance. Visualize yourself grieving and bringing that grief to an end, finding acceptance and release from the pain. Affirm, “I feel the pain of my regret,” “I accept the losses I have sustained,” “I am willing to grieve,” or “I am bringing my grief to an end.”
Grief should not go on forever. So even as you grieve, recognize that one day you will release this pain. Begin to feel the cleansing of the soul that
the tears and sadness bring. This time, the grieving over your regrets is not random or sporadic but purposeful. It is not a sudden shot of pain from out of the blue nor a slow ache that comes from nowhere. It is pain resurrected and managed for a purpose. And it is not pain to which you must ever return again with this intensity. Even having completed Step Four, you may still have sadness about your regrets. The loss of a loved one, for example, is something that, to some degree, never stops hurting. Yet the grief that interferes with letting go of your regret can be released and acceptance of the loss can be found. We may grieve our losses many times in working the steps, but now, at least, we have exposed our grief and know that it is manageable.
With the completion of Step Four, you are ready for the next step. It will take you from the pain of your regrets to the healing process of making amends.
Step Five: Making Amends
Some regrets bring a heavy burden of guilt. The guilt may stem from our acts of commission or omission toward others, or it may result from what we have done to ourselves. Step Five addresses this oppressive aspect of many regrets: a deep sense of guilt. Regret-based guilt can be intense and debilitating. It erodes our self-worth and corrodes our happiness. Like resentments, it binds us to the past and ties us to our regrets. Letting go of the guilt is part of letting go of the regret.
Not every regret results in guilt, of course. When regrets arise entirely from circumstances beyond our control (such as a physical impairment) or from the actions of others (such as childhood abuse), we are not likely to feel guilty. But we might. Children often feel guilty about parental abuse, because they erroneously believe they deserve it. And even when we didn’t cause a regret, we sometimes wrestle with the vague feeling that we are somehow responsible, that in some unknown way we should have done better.
If you have no guilt from your regrets and you have hurt no one, you do not need to work Step Five. The objective of Step Five is to make amends to the people you’ve harmed as a result of your regrets. If you have harmed no one, you have nothing for which to make an amend.
Most regrets are not guiltless, however. Even if you played no role in creating your regret, you may have hurt others by harboring it. You have certainly hurt yourself, and so you need to make an amend for that harm,
which is a self-amend. But you may have hurt others as well. Larry, for example, has never forgiven his father for the beatings he received as a child and a young adolescent. Larry’s anger over that abuse has poisoned his relationship with his siblings, because he insists on denouncing his father whenever they talk, even though they no longer wish to hear it. The resulting estrangement is painful for Larry’s siblings, who have been hurt by Larry’s failure to let go of his regret.