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Step Seven: Developing Compassion
In step seven, you will revisit your role in creating the regrets you harbor. This time, however, you will do so from the perspective of the past, not from the perspective of the present. With twenty-twenty hindsight, it is easy to see the mistakes you made that created your regrets. That does not mean, however, that you could have altered those actions or decisions at the time, given the circumstances that existed. It may be that you did the best you could have done.
The purpose of this step is to help you develop compassion for the way in which you have handled your regrets, including their creation. For that reason, the step may seem less relevant to regrets that happened to you, regrets that you were forced to deal with that were not of your own making. On the other hand, you have played some role in all the regrets that you continue to harbor. From the moment of their creation forward, your regrets were in your charge. What you did with them and how much you let them hurt you were entirely up to you. Therefore, the need for compassion exists with every regret you still hold, regardless of its cause.
Working the Step
When you cast judgment on yourself for the mistakes that led to your regrets, you do so from the perspective of the present. Yet the contexts of the
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present and the past are very different. You are probably very different compared to the way you were when your regret was created. In Step Seven, you will seek to answer this question: Could I have handled my regrets any differently from the way I did at the time oftheir creation, given who I was and the circumstances that existed then? However ineffective, inappropriate, or damaging your behavior may have been, was it nonetheless the best you could have done?
This line of thinking is tricky and even risky. Had you not prepared for it by working the first six steps, you might have pursued it with the goal of justifying your actions and avoiding accountability. But since you have completed those steps, you can hold yourself fully accountable for your actions in creating and maintaining your regrets, while you work to accept that you could not have acted any differently at the time, given the circumstance that existed then. In truth, regardless of what you did, nothing else was possible for you. What you did was the best you could have done, as flawed as it may have been. Or you would have done it differently. This realization does not make you any less accountable for your actions, but it should make you more compassionate in understanding the actions you did or didnít take.
Why does it help to think about your regrets in this way? Isnít this a trick to let yourself off the hook? Not if you still hold yourself accountable for what you did. In earlier steps, you accepted responsibility for your actions and made amends and reparations. In this step, you will not deny or minimize anything you have done or the negative consequences your behavior caused. What you will do is to accept that what you did was the only thing you could have done at the time.
Very likely, the actions you took that you now regret do not represent your essential self. They may have been actions you took while drunk or drugged that you would not have taken otherwise, things you didnít do because you were psychologically impaired, or acts you committed in severe emotional pain. As regrettable as your behavior may have been, it was the best you could manage then. Thatís what youíre trying to accept. You could not have performed better and still have been the person you were. A recognition of this truth will allow you to develop some appreciation of your struggles, problems, and imperfections and how they led to the acts
you later regretted. Like other human beings, you fell short of your ideals, the ideals of others, and, perhaps, even short of acceptable behavior. But it was all you could do.
When Joan betrayed her best friend to get ahead in her career, she rationalized it to herself as perfectly justifiable. A researcher for a small drug company, she stole her friendís idea and developed a patent that brought her fame and a fortune in royalties. Even as she spent the money and enjoyed the respect of her colleagues, she felt increasingly guiltyóand empty. Her drive to succeed and the consuming demands of her career isolated her and kept her from meaningful relationships. As she grew progressively more lonely and unhappy, she remembered longingly the friends she used to have, the good times she once had shared with them, and the happiness she had felt in their presence. First among these friends was the one she had betrayed. She longed to rebuild the relationship but had no way of doing so. Her friend was dead.
As Joan struggled to make sense of what she had done, she thought back to the way she had been at the time of her betrayal and the beginning of her regret. She was not trying to excuse the betrayal or to minimize it, but she was trying to understand how she could have committed what she now considered a despicable act. She remembered how insecure she had been growing up in a poor family and how desperate she was to make money, to become famous, to do anything that would fill the emptiness inside her. She recalled how often her father had told her that she was foolish to get a graduate degree and that she would never make it the manís world of medical science. She remembered how driven she had been to prove him wrong, to impress him with her money and her success, and to gain his approval. She also recalled how selfish she had been in those days, how singularly concerned she was with herself, and how little she had counted friendships except as contacts to further her career.