Abuse, Accountability, Healing, Mental health, Personal Growth

Leave Your Shoulds at the Door

Do you have regrets?

Uhh, don’t we all?

I think having regrets is part of being human. Having regrets is looking back on experiences and wishing things had been different, that maybe I could have/should have done something different. I definitely have regrets…there are many things I wish I could have done differently in life. Here’s a short list of things I regret:

  • I regret something as simple as I wish I had eaten breakfast everyday in college. It’s a great way to wake up and start the day, and it would have been a great way to establish a healthy routine to help me get out of bed. Instead, I didn’t eat breakfast (like everrrr) in college, and I waited until the last possible minute to roll out of bed, become a decently looking human, and stumble into class a couple minutes early. This has been my routine, even to this day—when I happened to wake up at 7:30am to be to work at 8am. Ugh.
  • I wish I had studied more in college during the pursuit for my bachelors degree. I would have had stellar grades, and again, I would have established a healthy routine that didn’t include procrastinating on important projects.
  • I wish I had enjoyed our wedding planning process and the actual day more. It was about 4 months from the big day when I became super stressed, and it took a toll on my mental health. I look back on the whole process of planning, and it was a blurr. I wish I could remember more, and if I had enjoyed it more, then maybe I could.

Sometimes our regrets are trivial. They aren’t super big, pressing issues and are things I could change now if I set some goals and really focused. Sometimes the regrets we carry (the should haves) are heavy…and they hurt…and there’s nothing we can do but wish for things to be different. For instance:

  • I wish I had told someone (a trusted adult) that I was being sexually abused as a child. Man-oh-man, the things that may have been different for me if I had. I imagine getting help at a young age and developing healthy coping skills and way of life then versus waiting until I was an adult and had already established, to my detriment, coping skills that hurt me and pushed people away.

Don’t should on yourself or others.

-A Wise Al-anon member

I realize that many of my regrets come from a phrase I tell myself often: “You should have done this, you should have done that. Things would be so much better.” When I started attending Al-Anon meetings, and would talk out loud about my regrets, saying things like, “gosh, I should have done that.” One day, someone much wiser than me said, “Don’t should on yourself or others.”

That stopped me dead in my tracks.
It got me thinking that I was “shoulding” myself a lot, and if I was doing it to myself, then I was doing it to others.

Getting into the business of “shoulding” ourselves is a down whirl spiral of shame. When I think about what I “should” have done, I think about how things could be, and not what they are. “Shoulding” myself brings on immense feelings of shame and guilt. And that’s what happens when we “should” others. It’s not rooted in reality; it’s rooted in shame for what actually happened. Some of the ways we do this include the following:

  • “You should have spent more time with dad when he was alive.”
  • “You should really repair your relationship with your mom. Life is too short.”
  • “You shouldn’t have been wearing that revealing dress” or “You should have fought back.”
  • “You should have done this or that…”

The list goes on and on.

The reality of life is that I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for all the things that have happened to me and the decisions I have made, and the same goes for you. It’s about accepting what is…the reality of what has made you, you. Acceptance is hard. It can be painful, but it’s necessary in order to help ourselves feel less shame.

Putting our regrets into perspective helps us understand the WHY behind things from the past. It’s easy to look at my past through my eyes and maturity as an adult and tell myself I should have done this or that. The reality? I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t feel comfortable. It’s normal for survivors to feel silenced, and as a child, I was afraid. I was afraid I would get in trouble. I was afraid I would get my perpetrator in trouble. I felt like I had done something wrong…that I was wrong. That’s why I hadn’t done it differently, and that’s OK. It’s about recognizing the WHY and accepting it for what it is.

Also, we can use the painful regrets as opportunities to learn and grow, to change the culture. For instance, instead of saying, “I should have told someone…” I could say, “I will believe survivors who have the courage to tell me about their pain and will encourage people there is hope and healing in sharing”. It’s a shift in the way we think and feel. It’s challenging, but it’s worth it.

Once we start to see and work through the “shoulds” we put on ourselves, we can do that for others. Or in some cases, maybe it’s easier to have empathy towards others than we have for ourselves. Letting go of the “shoulds” allows us to see the best in each other. It challenges us to recognize that we are all doing the best we can with what we have. Does it take away the pain? Of course not. It does bring in love and understanding, which is what we need more of in this world.

With that, I am going to challenge myself to leave my “shoulds” at the door…the door to my space and the door to yours. Will you join me?


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