First of all, let me suggest that there are no such things as “mistakes,” only lessons. Taking a job that feels unsatisfying or even torturous does not have to be viewed as a mistake – it can be a lesson that we want something different for our lives. Or dating someone who turns out to be a bad fit for us is not a mistake – it’s teaching us what or who would be a better fit. That being said, sometimes my patients have a difficult time not reliving their past and not beating themselves up for things that happened. If this is you, don’t worry–you’re not alone. And there are ways to overcome this habit.
Please note that this does NOT apply to traumatic or especially frightening events that have happened to you.
In this post, we’ll explore some practical tips for breaking free from this destructive habit. So read on if you’re ready to live in the present.
Here are some effective strategies to help you stop reliving past perceived mistakes:
Acknowledge the Feelings
Acknowledge the feelings associated with past lessons. Reliving what you might call mistakes typically comes with feelings of shame, guilt, regret, and anger. These intense emotions can be difficult to manage and process. Try to be as specific as possible when identifying your feelings. For example, instead of just saying “I feel bad,” try to identify the particular emotions you’re experiencing, such as “I feel guilty, ashamed, and embarrassed.” Allow yourself to experience these emotions without judgment or criticism. Pay attention to your feelings and don’t suppress them. Feel every facet of your emotions.
Get Curious and Ask Questions
Once you have sat with your feelings without trying to make them go away, get curious about them. For example, ask your brain what it’s telling you that is creating feelings of shame? Maybe you stayed in a toxic relationship for years, and now that you’ve left, you feel ashamed that you stayed as long as you did. The thoughts underlying shame might be: I was stupid to stay that long, I should have known better, I look stupid for tolerating abuse for so long.
As you can see, it makes complete sense why you’d feel ashamed if the thoughts above form the narrative running through your mind. Try to understand this key connection between your “story” and how you feel.
Try to be understanding and gentle with yourself. Instead of beating yourself up, give yourself some grace and allow yourself to recover and learn from the experience. One way to do this is to talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend. Would you berate and criticize your friend? Most likely not! Try to adopt a more supportive and encouraging attitude when facing your past.
Accept the Lessons
What if this wasn’t a mistake at all, but a lesson that came up to offer you healing?
Consider asking yourself what you will do differently as a result of this “mistake”? What are the lessons to be learned? What did your heart or mind need to learn from this experience that will now change things for you going forward? Perhaps you needed to learn that boundaries at work are crucial. Or that you tend to date men who unconsciously remind you of your alcoholic father. What nuggets of wisdom will help guide you?
Celebrate Your Progress
Don’t forget to celebrate as you do this internal work. You could keep a journal of your progress as a great way to track your thoughts and emotions over time and see how far you’ve come.
What if I Just Can’t Let It Go?
If you struggle to stop reliving what you’ve done in the past, don’t let it discourage you. This is actually a really common issue that I see in my therapy practice every day. The process of change takes time, patience, and practice. But with effort and support, you can learn to move forward and leave your past behind. This process can be expedited by seeking anxiety therapy. I can help provide you with tools you need to stop beating yourself up and to practice self-compassion. Please reach out to me to schedule your first appointment.