Don’t you hate it when, just as you least expect it, the untamed past escapes its cage?
With silent stealth, it attacks without warning, devouring any present peace in one fell swoop.
Before you even know what’s happened, it pounces and you find yourself captive, dangling powerless from the terrible jaws of regret.
The pain is so immediate and piercing, it takes your breath away.
At times, you are ashamed to admit, you have yearned for a swift end to what feels like interminable suffering.
You long to turn away, to blind the eyes that cannot close to things you said and the things you did and far worse still, that which went undone and unspoken.
Oh, the cruelty of hindsight, how it taunts us with impossible possibilities of how we could have been.
The shoulds, the coulds, the questions without answer. The answers you wish you could change.
The quality of mercy may fall unstrained like rain from heaven but,
Hidden in the dungeon of our lack of self-forgiveness,
There is no absolution.
Holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year but they can also be the most difficult. There is something about the message that this particular time should be full of joy that can create a lot more pressure for people who aren’t feeling particularly joyful for various reasons. One of the keys to getting through it is to remember that, in fact, you are not alone in feeling this way. Many people are suffering from sickness or depression, are dealing with being separated from loved ones, or coping with personal challenges or financial issues that are overwhelming.
Even if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by loved ones, ironically, this season of cheer and goodwill to all men is the time of year that families and couples fight the most. There is nothing quite like an extended period of time in an enclosed space with your nearest and dearest to push your biggest buttons and, when you add alcohol to the mix, things predictably go downhill.
Being single during the holidays is arguably worse than being part of a fighting couple: For some reason, being unwillingly single for the holidays sucks even more than on Valentine’s day, presumably because you at least have a fighting chance at ignoring the existence of the latter.
All this pales in comparison to how hard it is to get through the holidays when you are mourning a loved one. It is particularly painful, not just because it is a time full of memories, but because everywhere you turn, the message is that this is the time to be together with loved ones. The joy that the rest of the world seems to be experiencing can make those burdened by grief feel particularly isolated.
The most important survival skill at this time of year is to give yourself permission to have the feelings you are having. Stop telling yourself that you ought to be feeling differently just because the calendar is on this particular page. It is hard enough to deal with difficult feelings without heaping guilt and shame on top of them. Quit Should-ing yourself. Expectations are 99% of the cause of all suffering. Give up the expectation that you should be feeling or reacting any differently to the way that you are. At a minimum, accept that the reality is this is how you are feeling. Even better, show yourself a little compassion and respect the fact that if you had a choice, you wouldn’t choose to be feeling like this.
Step 2 is to imagine yourself as someone else that you care about and think about how you would treat them if they were feeling this way. Perhaps you would be a little more patient? Give them a break? Give them permission to curl up under the covers until they felt stronger? Everyone is unique and we all have different things that make us feel better – and crucially for some people, the most important thing is simply having permission not to feel better until we do. Sometimes it takes a heck of a lot more time and energy to try to stop yourself having a feeling than to let it run it’s course. Sometimes, little things can help a lot. Be brave and ask for help. If that’s too much or there doesn’t seem to be anyone available, come up with a short list of things you can do for yourself that might help. Maybe it’s going to the movies and escaping reality for a while, finding someone to talk to, getting some exercise, making yourself some nourishing food.
Step 3 is to remember that practicing gratitude can be a very helpful aid. Sometimes, even coming up with a list of things to be grateful for is a major challenge (click for a link to a post on some suggestions to get started). If that’s the case, try an appreciation list instead. When all seems lost, sometimes it helps to focus on appreciation for the things we have experienced, the ability to feel, the breath that still carries hope that there will be a better moment ahead. If these holidays are hard for you, I truly hope something here will be helpful. Please remember that you are not alone and that everything changes. This too shall pass, I promise. I wish you peace in your heart.
Guilt is very subjective matter; in a given situation, two people might make exactly the same decisions and carry out the very same actions, yet one of them wouldn’t give matters a second thought, whilst the other will be racked with guilt about identical choices and circumstances. It all comes down to how you measure up to your own expectations of yourself. The higher and the more unrealistic those expectations are, the greater the risk that you will fail to meet them and set yourself up for a massive burden of guilt.
Guilt is profoundly destructive and rather futile emotion, it has the power to become a black hole inside the soul, sucking all the joy and life out of a person. I would go so far as to say that it is a morbid form of self-absorption that offers no benefit to anyone. Feeling guilty doesn’t feed a hungry mouth or hold a lonely hand.
Here is a handy 4 part system I teach to my coaching clients: To work this process you can either use a journal or talk each stage through with a coach, therapist or friend.
1) Reality Check
The first step is to get some perspective by recalling the events in an objective a manner as possible – without the benefit of hindsight. Describe the circumstances and you may also find it helpful to think about what information, knowledge and resources – both practical and personal, were available to you at the time.
Now describe how you would have handled the situation ideally. What are the specific expectations of yourself that you failed to meet?
Next, you are going to evaluate those expectations – weed out any that weren’t fair, realistic or attainable. (To help with this step, imagine someone you love very much and see if you would hold the same expectations of them in this situation.) Looking at the list of unmet expectations you have left, allow yourself to fully feel regret – but don’t get stuck there. An optional extra step at this stage would be to come up with some amends you might want to make if that is possible. If you can’t “make it up” to the person in question, you can also consider an act of kindness or charity that you would do in their honor for someone or something else.
Here is where we come to the most important step. Reviewing everything you have come up with so far, make a list of intentions for the future. First on the list might be to set the intention of forgiving yourself. Next, write down a list of new and/or revised expectations you have for yourself and set some intentions for a different behavior in the future.
In conclusion, my loving suggestion is that rather than being paralyzed by guilt, you take action to transform it into something else which can actually benefit yourself and others. Regret what needs to be regretted and forgive what you can, this is the alchemy of healing, by which you can extract the gold from guilt, which is to learn from our experiences.
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