Rejecting Guilt Part II

Last week, or five minutes ago if you just happened upon this blog, you created and categorized an “If Only” list. These if only’s probably detail your deepest regrets, biggest perceived failings, and disappointment in your life circumstances. Your “If Only” list may change from week to week, but the likelihood is that many pieces of the list remain the same. And the reoccurring regrets reveal what you feel most guilty about. Here’s a recap of last week’s list after categorization:

Regret over use of time

…I had come home sooner

…I hadn’t let so-and-so’s friend come over that day.

…I hadn’t been so consumed with my job.

…I had been listening when so-and-so tried to talk with me.

…I had more time.

Regret over focus

…I had come home sooner.

… I had been more vigilant.

…I hadn’t been so consumed with my job.

…I had been listening when so-and-so tried to talk with me.

Regret over choice of acquaintances/friends

… had better friends.

…I had never met so-and-so.

… I hadn’t told so-and-so about such-and-such.

… I hadn’t let so-and-so’s friend come over that day.

Regret over personal characteristics/character traits

…didn’t weigh so much.

… I was more interesting.


This week I promised to look at possible motivating factors in the guilt and regret this list maker faces and how to combat regret and guilt you may be facing.

The list maker above is probably a frustrated perfectionist. Her world view tells her that she ought to be enough in control that nothing bad could happen. The list maker probably believes that if she had done everything right then her loved one would not be incarcerated right now, and may even feel that the incarceration is her fault.

This list maker should choose to look at the reality of things though. No matter how hard anyone strives, no one can ever control everything. When someone tries to be in control of all circumstances they will inevitably become frustrated and overwhelmed.

But, how can this person fight their tendency toward perfectionism? First, she needs to choose to focus on what is true. This might involve sitting down and taking an honest look at her schedule. Did she really have any ability to be home earlier than when she arrived? Could she still provide for her family if she is not devoting the amount of time and focus to her work that she currently has been giving it? The list maker should ask these sorts of questions of herself, and choose to focus on what is true.

Secondly, she needs to choose to let go. She cannot make choices for others. She cannot fix the bad choices of others. She can only choose how she will react, and what she will do with the circumstances placed in her life. She has the ability to choose to not accept responsibility for the bad decisions of others.

Finally, she should choose to improve what she can. Perhaps she truly does need to lose weight. Making a plan is the first step for that self-improvement. Possibly she does need to tune in more when others speak. If she currently has a habit to the contrary it is going to take conscious effort on her part to make that change. Perhaps she should make a plan to self-evaluate her interaction with others each evening for the next few weeks.

Of course, your personal list may look much different from this list maker. Some people face overwhelming feelings of life being totally out of control and a victimization mindset. Examining your “If Only” list may be the first step in regaining control of your life and mental health.

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