I invite you to think about a situation in which you did something you regret. Can you feel a physical response as you remember it? Maybe your chest feels tight, or you feel a knot in your stomach?
How do you speak to yourself about what you did? Does it sound like any of these…
“That was stupid!”
“What’s wrong with you?”
‘You messed up again, you can’t do anything right!”
Now, tap into your feelings about what you did. What emotions are you experiencing? Is it any of these…
We often judge ourselves harshly for our mistakes, which leads to shame, guilt, and even self-punishment.
Unfortunately, we often get stuck there.
When we do something we regret, we have two choices: we can disconnect and get stuck in our negative feelings or we can try to understand what motivated our behaviour and learn from that insight.
Feelings Are Information
Our feelings give us information. When we are connected to ourselves, our feelings spark us to take action to fulfill our needs. When there is a disconnect, we become immobilised through guilt or shame and unable to take positive action.
But there is good news - we don’t have to remain stuck in regret. We can learn to ask ourselves questions that help us acknowledge our feelings and uncover the needs we were trying to meet in the situation, and then find more effective ways to meet those needs in the future.
We Are Motivated By Our Needs
Our behaviour is a response to our feelings and an attempt to meet our needs.
We might eat (BEHAVIOUR) because we are hungry (FEELING) and need sustenance. (NEED)
We might eat (BEHAVIOUR) because we are lonely (FEELING) and have a need for comfort. (NEED)
We are doing the same action but it is motivated by different feelings and to satisfy very different needs.
Recognising our underlying feelings helps us to understand why we did what we did and what need we were trying to meet by doing it.
Then we are in a position to consider other ways to meet those needs in a way that is more compassionate to ourselves and others.
From Condemnation To Compassion
In order to move from self-condemnation to self-compassion, Marshall Rosenberg suggests some questions we can ask ourselves to better understand what needs motivated our behaviour and how to meet those needs in more beneficial ways in the future.
He firstly proposes that we connect with our feelings and unmet needs that were stirred up by our past regrettable action. It is important that we recognise these feelings and needs without blame or judgement. We can understand that we feel the discomfort because on a deeper level we know that our behavior was not in line with our needs and values.
Then we seek clarity by finding out what needs we were trying to meet when we took the action we now regret. There may be layers of needs to explore here.
Self-compassion allows us to offer empathy to both the self that regrets the past action and the self that took the action.
This process of mourning and self-forgiveness frees us to learn and grow rather than remaining stuck and stagnant in our regret.
Put On Your Own Mask First
If you’ve ever travelled on an aeroplane, you will be familiar with the stewards instructing you to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping other passengers in an emergency. In the same way, it is difficult - arguably almost impossible - to offer compassion to others if we don’t know how to be compassionate with ourselves.
If you would like to understand your own emotional reactions and learn how communicate more effectively with others, we can help you do that here.