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This Is What I Did to Stop My Regrets From Keeping Me Awake at Night

This Is What I Did to Stop My Regrets From Keeping Me Awake at Night

“I want to live my life so that my nights are not full of regrets.”

—D. H. Lawrence

Regret is a universal emotion that is felt by us all. The emotion of regret can be very powerful, and if we let it, regret can take over our lives. There are people who are good at managing their regrets, and there are some of us who are not so great at it.

For a long time, my feelings of regret dominated my life, particularly during stressful and unhappy times. I would lie awake thinking of all the things that I didn’t do, the mistakes I made, and the opportunities I stuffed up.

I would act out scenes in my head, which always began with questions such as, “What if? What if I had said this? What if I had done this?” These regret role-plays could go on for hours, and of course, the opportunity for a good nights sleep was lost. I would wake up tired, with no energy and feel unhappy. This was not a great way to start the day.

The more tired I felt, the unhappier I was about my life. I finally got to a point in my life where I realized that living my life full of regret was causing me immense unhappiness. I didn’t want to live an unhappy life, so I decided to change it.

This, of course, is easier said than done. Finding a way to manage the negative impact of regret in my life was not going to be achieved in a day, a week, or even a month. I decided that I would take one step at a time rather than rush off and look for ways where I would undergo some form of personal transformation in the hope that my regrets would magically disappear.

I knew that my regrets were never going to go away. I just had to get better at managing the negative influence they were having on my life.

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The Psychology of Regret

 The first step I decided to take was to educate myself about the emotion of regret. What I learned from reading various articles and books enabled me to better understand and manage my thoughts and feelings around my regrets in life.

Two American psychologists, Neale J. Roese and Mike Morrison, conducted a National Survey on regret. The results from the survey showed that the six biggest regrets that we have in life are based on education, career, romance, parenting, self-improvement, and leisure.

“Regret is an essential part of the human experience—something everybody has as long as they have life goals. Rather than avoid it, it’s better to try to take some insights out of the regret experience.”

—Neal J. Roese Professor of Psychology

This quote by Neale J Roese was for me an “aha moment.” Up until this point, I realized that I was living my life trying to avoid having regrets. Looking back now, I think I had become slightly brainwashed by reading too many “personal development” books, or maybe I just misinterpreted what I was reading about regret.

Somehow I had created a belief where I thought that by having no regrets I would have a happier life. I got it so wrong, and when I read what Neale J Roese said about regret, I realized that regret was actually an important part of my life experience. What I needed to sort out was how to deal with those thoughts and feelings of regret that were having a negative impact on my life.

Opportunity Breeds Regret

The report on the national survey talked about the Opportunity Principle and how our actions or failure to take action around opportunities in our life can create deep feelings of regret.

Another interesting fact about regret is that if an opportunity is denied or never presents itself to you then you are more likely to rationalize these feelings and move on. However, when you fail to take action when the opportunity presents itself to you then, you are more likely to have deeper feelings of regret. It is these regrets that are more likely to keep you awake at night.

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Mark Twain’s quote below sums up really well how your failure to take action can stay with you forever.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

—Mark Twain

By me committing to take action, I now embrace opportunities. I don’t focus on the outcome of the opportunity. I focus on how I choose to respond to the opportunity. By doing this I started to find that I would spend less time thinking at night about all opportunities that I had failed to take up.

Regret, the Power of Choice and a Good Nights Sleep

All is not lost however when it comes to “lost opportunities” in our life as we all have within us the power of choice. The benefit that lost opportunity and regret offer to us is the opportunity to choose to take corrective action.

Regret actually serves a purpose in our lives as it can remind us of what we need to do differently to move forward in our lives. We can choose to take action and create more positive feelings about our actions. When we do this our feelings of regret diminish, and once again, we are less likely to be kept awake playing out scenarios of regret in our head. We are more likely to be enjoying a good night’s sleep because we chose to take action. That is what makes us happy!!

I realized that for me to have better nights’ sleep, the more courageous I choose to be about stepping out and taking action, the better I felt about myself.

Going to bed feeling happy about myself was a key step for me to take control of the feelings of regret that were keeping me awake at night.

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Regret and Taking Action

Taking action was one key thing that I could do right now that could reduce the negative influence that regret had in my life. If I did this one thing consistently, over and over again, I would be guaranteed to get a good night’s sleep forever. If I keep taking action every time an opportunity presents itself to me and not worry about the outcome, the less likely I am to have thoughts of regret.

Here are three actionable strategies that I implemented in my life that helped me take control of my regrets so that I could consistently get a great night’s sleep

1. Move Onto Future Opportunities

Regrets are part of life, and the only way they can control our lives is if we let them. The more we think about our regrets the more influence they have over us. Dwelling on our regrets immobilizes us, and we eventually become fearful and unhappy about our lives.

Recognize your regrets, acknowledge them, and then leave them. Turn your attention to future opportunities — don’t dwell on the past.

2. Accept That You Cannot Change What Has Been Done

There is a great book I read about regret written by Arthur Freeman called “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities.”

In this book, Arthur Freeman talks about how regret will quickly disappear once we realize that the situation is done and finished. There is no going back, and we can’t change what has happened. The secret to dealing with our regret starts at the moment we decide what we are going to do next. It is our attachment to the past that breeds these feelings of regret, and once we let go of the past, we take more control over our future.

When you are being kept awake at night by your regrets, you are living your life in the past, and you have no control over the past. The more you look toward the future, the more control you have over your life.

When you are lying in your bed at night, the first thing you do is think of one future opportunity that makes you feel good. Do not go to bed if you cannot think of a future opportunity because, trust me, those regrets will come flooding into your thoughts.

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If you are really struggling read Arthur Freeman’s book as he provides lots of tools and strategies on how to unblock your attachment to the past.

 3. Make Your Regrets Work for You

Turn your regrets into lessons of learning. Put your regrets into context, acknowledge them, and then use them to motivate you to take more positive action.

This strategy I have used a lot, and it works. I always wanted to be a writer-speaker and coach, but for many years, I did nothing about it. I would lie awake thinking about my failure to take action, which of course meant that I never did anything about it for years. Then my parents died suddenly, and my life was thrown into chaos and pain.

As I went through the process of healing in my life, I realized that my regrets were not serving me well. In fact, they were preventing me from living the life I desired, and I needed to change that. So started writing with no expectation I just started. I didn’t want to live with a regret that I had never given it a go as a writer.

Here I sit today writing this article and so thankful that I took a regret and made it work for me.

I still do have the occasional sleepless night thinking about what I should have done, but my regrets today are not consuming my life. I have consistently more good nights sleep now than I had when my regrets controlled me and kept me awake night after night.

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

You know how this looks:

  • Parents constantly comparing children.
  • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Adultery…
  • And many others.

For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

How to fix a dysfunctional family

In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

Dysfunctional… Or just average?

Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of interest and time spent together
  • Sexism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Lack of empathy
  • Unequal or unfair treatment
  • Disrespect towards boundaries
  • Control Issues
  • Jealousy
  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

How to turn it around

When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

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As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

Correction is possible

In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

Verbalize it.

All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

Putting it to work in real life

In real life it would be something like this:

“OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

Or:

“Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

Or:

“Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

This is what you have to remember:

1-Stop.

2-Why it’s wrong?

3-What you need.

And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

It’s a family thing

A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

In other words, you will need cooperation…

So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

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We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

It’s not a free-for-all battle

In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

The method

1. Drop the ego

Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

2. Not blame, but responsibility

When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

You will do something like this:

“Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

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It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

What happened here?

We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

3. Doing the work

What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

“When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

Love is all you need

You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

And what happens if it simply is not there?

What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

There is only one thing you can do:

To break away.

Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

“We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

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Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

Putting distance

So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

What do I mean?

Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

I choose my peace of mind.

And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

How to prevent it

There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

  • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
  • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

Priorities and clear thought

You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

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