SHOULDA, WOULDA, COULDA

La­ment­ing what you might have done dif­fer­ently is not only hold­ing you back but po­ten­tially mak­ing you sick and pre­vent­ing you from liv­ing your best life. In­stead of try­ing to re­write his­tory, Meg Ma­son finds it’s all about re­fram­ing it

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

Cring­ing over a past trans­gres­sion? While you may not be able to change his­tory, you can re­frame it.

You hear women de­scribe it as a weight on their chest, or a stab of pain. Some­thing more like nau­sea, com­ing in waves, or the sense of be­ing on the flut­tery edges of a panic at­tack. They ex­pe­ri­ence and de­scribe in phys­i­cal terms some­thing that’s purely emo­tional: re­gret.

It feels that way, like some­thing con­crete and im­mov­able. It’s one of the most uni­ver­sal as­pects of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, with 90 per cent of us eas­ily iden­ti­fy­ing at least one ma­jor de­ci­sion we’ve gone on to re­gret, ac­cord­ing to tech start-up Hap­pify – and who has ever met a mem­ber of the 10 per cent? But if re­gret is so com­mon, why don’t we know how to deal with it? Why do we let it sit there, defin­ing us and in­form­ing all our sub­se­quent choices? Why do we lie awake at 3am re­liv­ing it, go­ing back and back over how much bet­ter life would be right now if we hadn’t done the thing, or had done the other thing, when that only serves to sharpen the feel­ing and make sure it will hurt just as much in 10 years as it does right now? Or in ac­tual fact, hurt more.

“I think about it all the time and when I do, I feel such a heav­i­ness in the pit of my stom­ach,” 27-year-old Lea Sharp says of her de­ci­sion to stay in an un­healthy re­la­tion­ship for years af­ter she first re­alised how de­struc­tive it was, less than a month af­ter it be­gan. She was 21 at the time, preg­nant and pre­par­ing to be a sin­gle mother when she be­gan dat­ing a man who she had known for a while and was al­ready a sin­gle par­ent him­self. “At the time I thought, ‘Oh, this man must be amaz­ing to want to take over par­ent­ing a child who isn’t bi­o­log­i­cally his,’” Sharp says. “And he was very dot­ing to be­gin with, but af­ter the birth he be­came very jeal­ous and threat­ened by my son. My in­stincts flared right away but my mind­set was that I just needed to stick it out.”

So many years later, hap­pily mar­ried and with an­other child, Sharp says, “I just wish I could go back and have the time over with my son, just the two of us. I still strug­gle, and even though I tell my­self I’m do­ing so much bet­ter now with my sec­ond child, cer­tain things will re­mind me of what I missed the first time that I can never get back. I still re­gret ev­ery mo­ment of it.”

Hers could be an ob­ject les­son in re­gret. And most of us could tell a ver­sion of the same. Out of ev­ery small

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