Dealing with regret in trauma recovery can be really tricky.
A lot of trauma recovery is letting go of things we weren’t responsible for and accepting things we could not change.
That work is hard enough for most survivors. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that the things we endured were our fault.
Often in recovery, we’re exhorted to “take responsibility” for our lives— which, to a lot of people, seems to mean blaming ourselves for whatever we went through and the emotions and behaviors that have developed in the aftermath.
What we learn in trauma recovery is that the truth of “taking responsibility” is often nuanced: while it ABSOLUTELY requires us to take responsibility for the choices and responses we DO have influence over, it also requires us to place appropriate blame on the bullies and abusers who caused us pain in the past, and relinquish our need to control emotions and behaviors that we DON’T have influence over.
Sorting through all of that can be a bitch. It can take awhile. We can’t rush it and we can’t be glib about it.
Then there’s regret. Things we did, and wish we hadn’t. Things that we wish every day we had the chance to do over or undo.
Sometimes our regrets are related to our trauma history, but in my experience, often they’re not.
My own regrets deal mostly with my relationship history.
My brain loves to remind me of times when I didn’t express things I should have expressed; when my boundaries were either too rigid or too relaxed; when I prioritized my comfort and what I perceived to be my emotional safety over authenticity and intimacy.
I can look at my relationship history and see where my experience as a survivor of complex trauma influenced my behavior in relationships and friendships— but while contextualizing my behavior can help explain some of it, it doesn’t change that a lot of my relationship decisions in the past strike me now as infuriatingly immature and inauthentic.
When we think of our regrets, we tend to cringe.
And for survivors of complex trauma, it’s REAL easy to let that train of thought lead us to a pretty dark place.
Complex trauma survivors often believe we are broken. That we just can’t function normally, especially in relationships. That we’re hopeless and may as well not even try to get close to people.
The truth is, human beings of EVERY background struggle with relationships at times, and making poor relationship decisions shouldn’t mean a “sentence” of lifelong loneliness for ANYONE; but because complex trauma survivors come with the baggage we come with, it’s easy for us to get into that groove when we’re reflecting on our relationship history.
It is for me, anyway.
If you follow my work, you know the emphasis I place on self-compassion. Talking ourselves through rough moments. Being on our own side, having our own back.
It’s REALLY hard to do that when we’ve been ruminating on our regrets. Particularly our relationship failures.
The bitch of it is: it’s in those moments, when it’s REALLY hard, that it’s MOST important to be on our own side.
To have our own back. To not abandon ourselves.
To not buy in to what we were told about ourselves once upon a time by our bullies and abusers. To not repeat the behavior of our bullies and abusers toward us.
Tonight, I’m really struggling with relationship regrets. And, just like many survivors of complex trauma, i’m convinced that nobody in the universe could possibly understand my pain, its complexity, its nuance.
After all, I, like every complex trauma survivor out there, believe that I’m fundamentally alone in my pain, fundamentally unique in my brokenness.
But I’m not.
And part of me knows that, too.
It’s a part of me I’ve developed, on purpose, in the course of my recovery.
We all need to cultivate a part of us that can sit with the hurt, angry, lonely part of us on nights like this one— when thinking about our regrets has led us down a path.
We cultivate that compassionate, supportive part of ourselves the same way we develop any part of us: one day at a time, with intentionality and consistency.
You’re not alone.
Neither am I.