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By remembering these things, Joan began to develop compassion for herself. By going back to the way she was at the time of her regret and to the circumstances that existed then, she could begin to understand why she had done what she had. That understanding was no excuse and didn’t make it any less wrong, but it helped Joan appreciate how it was that she gave in to a terrible temptation. She was no victim. She always had the
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power to make the choice that was morally right, but she did feel sadness for the empty, desperate woman she had been in her youth. Somehow, that sadness and her appreciation of how difficult her life had been helped her understand the poor choices she had made. She felt less like a monster than a very flawed young woman who made a horrendous mistake and then compounded it over the years. To have done better than she did, Joan decided, wasn’t possible for her at the time. As tragic as that was, it was also true. She had been too impaired to do right. And she had suffered deeply for it ever since.
You may have trouble accepting such a compassionate approach toward your own regrets, because it sounds too easy, too much like an excuse for bad behavior, or too forgiving. Perhaps it would be if you had not patiently worked the first six steps. But you have proven, through those steps, that you are willing to accept responsibility for your actions and to make amends for them. You have stepped up to the plate and held yourself accountable. Because you have done so, you are now entitled to a broader, more inclusive perspective, one that encompasses your own limitations that existed at the time of your regret.
Like Joan, had you been able to do better, you would have. That you didn’t indicates an impairment you could not overcome, a momentary stress that got the better of you, a challenge with which you were not prepared to deal. In other words, in your weakness, you were human—and paid the price of being human. By acknowledging and accepting with compassion and understanding who you were then, you can deal more effectively with who you are now. As a result of your amends, you have changed your behavior. You are not the same person you were when the regret was created.
Step Seven is not about forgiveness. It is about trying to develop compassion for yourself as a flawed human being, like all human beings, who struggled with challenges and opportunities and did not do as well as you wish you had. You have only to develop some empathy, some sympathy for the person you were then, even if “then” was only last month.
In this step, you will reevaluate your performance at the time of your regret. You will acknowledge your weaknesses, but you will also accept that you were not able to overcome them, given the emotional and other
resources available to you at the time. In the process of looking at your regrets in this light, you will try to stop blaming yourself. Instead, you will seek acceptance of who you were then and how you tried to do the best you could, given what you had to work with at the time. As you let go of the blame and find acceptance, you will let go of your regrets and find compassion.
The compassion that you develop toward yourself in this step will prepare you to forgive others in Step Eight and to forgive yourself in Step Nine. As you accept that you did the best you could under the circumstances and grow more compassionate toward yourself, another possibility will dawn on you. Perhaps the people who hurt you could not have done better, either. Perhaps they were just like you: struggling with a set of problems and experiences that precluded them from acting in supportive or even acceptable ways. Perhaps they were in the same boat. Perhaps we all are. There may be some relief in that realization and some freedom. It does not mean that you hold anyone who hurt you any less accountable, but it does mean that you can develop compassion for them as well as for yourself.
There are three items on the Action List for Step Seven:
Action List: Step Seven
1. Assess your capacities at the time of the regret
2. Identify what you did right
3. Apply the spiritual and psychological tools
In working the step, apply all three Action List items to each regret.
1. Assess Your Capacities at the Time of the Regret
In addressing this Action List item, try to remember the way you were when your regret was created and the specific circumstances that existed at
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that time. Describe those circumstances in your journal. Include any emotional or physical problems you were dealing with that made it difficult for you to act in the way you would now have preferred. Describe the fear, shame, guilt, anger, financial hardship, or other factors that influenced the decisions you made. Ask yourself whether you could have done any better than you did, given the events of the time and where you were psychologically and spiritually. The question is not “should” you have done better but could you have done better. Realistically, what could you have done differently? If you are fair in your assessment, you will find that it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for you to have behaved any way other than the way you did.