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If the acts creating your regret were accidental, compassion for yourself may be easier to find since your actions were not intentional. Perhaps you could have been more careful, but in reality, accidents do happen—some-times serious ones. If the cause of your regrets was unintentional, but you still blame yourself, work on figuring out why. Is there a toxic thought pattern involved, for example? If it’s a question of forgiveness, you will deal with that issue in Steps Eight and Nine. Use the spiritual and psychological tools on this aspect of the step.
2. Identify What You Did Right
When regretting, many people fail to give themselves credit for what they did right, especially for the actions that lessened the consequences of their regrets. In some of your regrets, if not all of them, you may have acted to lessen their effects by preventing them from getting worse or by trying to correct the negative consequences as they were unfolding. As bad as it was, you could have made it much worse—but you didn’t. By overlooking what you did right, you deny the efforts you made that were positive and so make it more difficult to be compassionate toward yourself. In examining your regrets for the purpose of identifying what you did right, it is not false praise that you’re seeking. It’s a realistic appraisal that gives you credit where credit is due.
Ken was an absent father whose job and intense desire to succeed at that
job kept him from much interaction with his children, particularly his two sons, for whom he had little time. One of his greatest regrets, looking back, was his failure to be part of their lives and the distance he felt in their present relationship. The two boys respected him, but he didn’t feel that he had ever bonded with them, and they were less likely than their sisters, as young adults, to want to spend the time with him that he wanted to spend with them. As he sought to come to terms with this regret, he tried to identify what he had done right with these two children.
The reason he had always used for his absences was the high standard of living he had provided for them. He could admit now that it was an excuse. In truth, he had been more interested in his job, success in his field, and the huge bonuses he had received than he was in relating to his children. He regretted that now and realized that the money was no substitute for having been part of their lives. Nonetheless, it did have positive effects, such as fine private-school educations, elaborate family vacations to interesting places, and many material things they seem to have enjoyed. Ken included these advantages in trying to identify some of the things he had done right in dealing with his sons. He had tried to see the boys as much as he could. That wasn’t much, but he had made some sacrifices at work to be with them every once in a while. He had tried to teach them honesty, and he had never intentionally hurt them. To the best of his ability at the time, he had loved them. Those were some of the items Ken included on the list of what he had done right in the deep regrets he had about his sons.
In your journal, for each of your regrets, list:
• The ways in which you tried to lessen the negative consequences of your
• The ways in which you didn’t make the regret worse.
3. Apply the Spiritual and Psychological Tools
If you have trouble developing compassion for yourself and for your behavior in relation to your regrets, consider how you can use prayer, creative visualization, affirmations, sharing with others, and additional journaling
STEP SEVEN: DEVELOPING COMPASSION 149
to help you with this step. For example, in your prayers, ask that you be given compassion for yourself. Pray that you might remember your past without the prejudice of the present. Pray for a greater understanding of the context of your actions, why you did what you did, and why your behavior could not have been different, given who you were at the time of your regret. Ask your higher power to help you assess the state of your life as it was then, realistically and honestly.
Use creative visualization to remember yourself as you were when the regret was created, perhaps in emotional distress, perhaps impaired in some other way. See yourself as you are now reaching a hand out to yourself as you were then. See yourself taking that hand and then embracing yourself. Feel the condemnation leaving as you hug yourself, recognizing the sadness and pain of the life you were leading. Give into your feelings of sympathy and compassion for the person you were. Feel the joy of reconnecting with yourself, of letting go of the anger and the blame, replacing it with an appreciation of your struggles, a loving acceptance of who you were, and gratitude for who you are now becoming.
Journal about your difficulties in finding compassion for yourself, about your refusal to see any extenuating circumstances for your past behavior. Write about your fears of facing the person you were, the selfblame that’s so hard to give up, your hopes for this step, and how freeing it would be if you could accept that you had done the best you could do.