People are always saying no regrets. I used to be one of them. But being self-aware and growth-oriented doesn’t mean that we can’t regret the mistakes we made on our journey. In fact, it’s a very human experience.
I have one relationship I would take back if I could. There’s plenty that I learned. Having all my savings stolen made me set better financial boundaries and learn to give trust only as trust is earned in relationships. The relationship helped me discover everything I don’t want in a partner and how to recognize gaslighting, manipulation, and emotional abuse. But I absolutely regret having to learn these lessons through the experience of suffering.
In the fallout of that relationship, I was so focused on the financial devastation as a single parent of two that I didn’t properly heal from the pain of the betrayal or emotional abuse during the relationship.
I look back and admire how hard I hustled and how I managed to turn a spectacularly bad experience into my dream life and career. But I also see how the unhealed hurt would go on to hurt me in my next relationship. It may have seemed dormant at the time, but the insidious damage of abuse would rise to the surface, and healing couldn’t be avoided any longer.
He told me that if people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me, much less love me. It was a familiar refrain, an old line I’d heard before. I knew he was projecting his own issues, and I knew after the relationship that everything I experienced wasn’t narcissism as much as it was emotional abuse.
Still, the words played on a loop in my head. Later, I would hear those words echoed again from someone else’s lips. They might have been different words, but they meant the same thing. And were just as devastating.
I understand the mechanics of what I experienced and why it took me so long to not only get out of the relationship but to unravel the pain of it. The words hovered in my consciousness, and I began to wonder if they were true. At a subconscious level, I began to believe they were.
Do you know what it’s like to live with the thought that the idea of you is better than the reality? That you look good on paper but disappoint in real life? That the fantasy of who you are is better than anything you could ever be? I hope to God you don’t.
It undermined my confidence and self-worth. It poked holes in my self-trust. And it began to scare the hell out of me that it was true.
A new trigger was born from this relational trauma. Now, when someone really likes me, I am filled with debilitating anxiety. How long will it take for them to decide that they prefer the fantasy? How much will it hurt when I realize, again, that they do in fact prefer it?
I become hypervigilant and focused on communication changes. Any shift in the air ignites the fear that they have finally decided I am not enough. The devastation is crushing.
Because I’ve had loads of EMDR trauma therapy at this point in my life, I understand that I have to sit with the discomfort of these feelings. I have to experience the emotions coursing through my body. Then, I have to dismantle the toxic remnants of abuse in order to heal and find my truth.
I don’t think that I am better on paper, but in my toughest moments, I phoned a friend who has known me longer than nearly anyone else. She’s a straight-shooter and won’t bullshit me. So, when she tells me that I am lovable, worthy to be loved, and authentic both on paper and in real life, I choose to believe she’s a more reliable witness than the person who stole my savings and my children’s savings and never bothered to honor the court proceedings that said he had to pay it back.
Actually, one of the most powerful things we can do when looking at the past is to ask ourselves if the people who hurt us are reliable witnesses. Have they shown themselves to be honest, ethical, kind, and loving? Are they people we would go to for advice on how to live our lives?
Healing doesn’t mean that we have to express gratitude toward the people who hurt us. I am grateful for the lessons, but I regret the way I learned some of them.
Do I wish I could go back and prevent that version of me from being emotionally eviscerated? I really do. When Taylor Swift said, “I regret you all the time,” I truly felt that.
I regret that my kneejerk reaction to someone thinking I’m great is to wonder how long it will be before they withdraw and amend that opinion. I hate that there’s a voice in my head that tells me that love isn’t something I deserve. I hate that I have a memory of being publicly abused in a grocery store or having my character completely assassinated during a long car ride when I couldn’t escape.
I get to regret the things that hurt me but grew me out of necessity. I get to reject the adage that “everything happens for a reason” and insist instead that I make the reasons. I get to choose how I survive the things that happen, and I get to decide to thrive in spite of them. But I don’t have to be grateful they happened or tell myself some pretty fiction that I have no regrets.
In fact, I can openly regret the things that hurt me while still embracing the lessons learned. I regret him all the time because there are some hurts that don’t heal easily. I can regret him while being accountable for the decisions I made that contributed to the unhealthy relationship dynamic. I can regret him and still admit that I made that toxic relationship choice before I saw the danger— just as I can applaud my decision to finally get out.
Saying that we shouldn’t have regrets is toxic positivity and emotional bypassing. I try to live my life without creating new choices to regret, but I also accept the fact that we can only know what we know. If I make a mistake with long-term ramifications, I am allowed to wish I’d made another choice.
Healing is owning the regret and learning the lessons it gave us. It’s refusing to repeat mistakes once we know better. It’s sitting with the discomfort and acknowledging the triggers while wishing that we didn’t have to do it.
Healing is choosing love and vulnerability even when it’s scary. It’s waking up every day and creating a healthier life. What it’s not is a life without regrets.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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