We have all done something that we regret at some point. It may be that we hurt someone we loved, failed in our responsibilities or spent years feeding addictions that damaged our bodies, our relationships and/or our finances. It could be that we did something stupid without thinking about the consequences or knowingly did something that was wrong. It could be something relatively small (harsh words we said in the heat of an argument) or something we still don't feel free of, even years later. It may even have involved compromising our self-respect.
Whatever it may have been, the heaviest result of making a mistake is guilt, remorse - even a sense of being inherently 'bad', 'worthless' or 'stupid'. No matter how big or small the mistake was, whether 1000 people know about it or it's been kept a secret from even our closest friends and family, knowing that we've done something wrong can cause us to question ourselves, our value and our right to be happy.
How do we become free?
1) Make Restitution
If the mistake involved hurting another person, then making restitution is often the first step in alleviating guilt and frustration as well as repairing the relationship. This may mean admitting to the wrong, apologising, and/or helping the person to 'clean up the damage'. This is not always possible -the other person may refuse to see you or there may be something else stopping you from communicating with them. All you can do is try, and then give the person time to overcome their own hurt and disappointment.
2) Face the Consequences
Consequences inevitably follow mistakes. There may be legal, relationship and/or financial consequences, or all three, depending on what was done. It may mean that you miss out on something you wanted, have to say goodbye to something or accept the loss of whatever's now gone, even if it was only an opportunity for something better. Some people spend years trying to avoid consequences, but doing so only prolongs the inevitable as well as the guilt and the pain. Consequences may be difficult to deal with, but once they are faced, then we are free to start again and move forward.
3) Forgive Yourself
Most of the time we are our harshest critics. If nothing else, this shows that we have a conscience and respect for whoever or whatever we offended against. But we should not let our mistakes determine our worth or our future. No one is a lost cause. We may have acted badly, but this does not mean we are bad. By learning to separate the two and remembering that no one is perfect, it becomes easier to forgive ourselves for our shortcomings. Our past may be darkened by bad decisions, but we can learn from the experiences, use them to become a better person and to educate others, and move forward. Once we learn to move beyond self-condemnation, it is possible to use our bad experiences for good.
As the saying goes, 'no matter what your past has been, your future is spotless'.