QUESTION OF THE DAY: How do you stop bargaining with your past?
An old friend of mine recently sent me this a link to article in Psychology Today, which I found wise and helpful. Here's the link:
The article is about how we often spend our lives "bargaining with the past" — reliving old mistakes and bad encounters, fantasizing endlessly about how differently we would do things if we have the chance to do them over again. Sometimes we even spend days or years obsessively recreating old conversations and encounters in our imaginations (I am particularly guilty of this game!) in order to try to manipulate the scenario into having a totally different outcome this time.
The fact that this activity is both irrational and a waste of time has never stopped me from doing it. Just because you CAN'T bargain with the past doesn't make me give up trying. I catch myself at it constantly.
But this article contains an interesting piece of information that might help you be more compassionate to yourself when you do find yourself bargaining with your past. The idea is this: Try to keep in mind that every decision you ever made came from an earnest desire for self-preservation. Even if the outcome was complete self-destruction, that was not the intent of the person who launched herself into that scenario however many years ago. All she was trying to do — crazy as it sounds now — was save herself. Save herself from suffering, from fear of punishment, from pain, from loneliness, from negative consequence. While you can see NOW that perhaps your choices were not the best, you couldn't possibly have seen that then. Or you wouldn't have done it.
The author of this article, Dr. Suzanne Lachmann, suggests that when we go back again and again to relive a bad situation, fantasizing or bargaining with the past to create a different imaginary outcome, we are putting a small band-aid on our pain and regret — without really working our way through our pain and regret. The bargaining fantasy is a way to make you temporarily feel better about something you can't change…when maybe the healthier task would be to try to understand why, at that time, you honestly believed somewhere in your heart (or subconscious) that this decision would have saved you. And then to examine what you have learned since then — to make sure you aren't doing it again.
And, of course, to forgive yourself.
I really recommend reading this one, you guys…it had a powerful impact on me. As a regret-junkie, I really needed it. (And thank you, querida, for sending this to me!)