To regret or not to regret? The best thing you can do right now is to be kind to yourself. In this episode, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen talk about their past mistakes. Is it worth it to beat yourself up because of past decisions? In the end, pain and suffering can be wonderful teachers. You may not have made the best choices, but as long as you know in your heart that you did the best you can with the choices you had, keep moving forward! Tune in and work your way towards freedom from shame and regret!
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To Regret Or Not To Regret? Why It’s Not Worth Feeling Ashamed
Reframing Our Past To Be Kinder To Ourselves
We teased our topic on our previous episode of This Might Get Uncomfortable. For any regular readers, you have been anticipating this if you read the episode that came prior to this one. It’s a topic that has interestingly been coming up in much more potent and repetitive ways for me. What I want to explore with you, Whitney, and with you, dear reader, is regret. Before we get into the mechanics of regret and some interesting articles on how to overcome serious regret, I want to preface it by saying that I started to have persistent thoughts about the past, much more so than usual.
I don’t necessarily historically find myself to be a person that overly ruminates on things that have happened before, Whitney. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I should have or could have done about something that happened in the past. I do try to be as present as I possibly can. Of course, I’m not an avatar. I’m not present all the time. I hit my shin on the coffee table. I hit my leg on the side of the bed. I worry about the future. I’ve been thinking about a lot of past situations that I haven’t thought about in many years.
For some reason, this dense concentration has been sitting there and going, “I haven’t thought about that thing, that person, that situation in years or even decades in some cases.” It hasn’t been reflecting on old relationships, partnerships, creative projects, and situations. It’s been a difficult thing for me because when those things come up, I find myself feeling sad with a lot of those situations, not necessarily thinking back on gratitude for that situation or gratitude for what had happened in the past and what’s made me the person I am now. I feel a consistent level of not just sadness but regret.
I wanted to look up the definition of regret because I wanted to see if it somehow matched the emotional content of what I’ve been feeling when I focus on regret. The dictionary definition of regret is to feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or a missed opportunity. It’s pretty accurate to feel sad, repentant, or disappointed. For me, the sadness has been at the core of this feeling of regret, focused around feeling like I’ve given up too quickly on certain things.
For me, the central theme has been specifically looking at career opportunities that I pursued and gave up on, relationships that perhaps I potentially abandoned too quickly out of frustration or disappointment. I’ve been thinking about, have I given up too easily on certain things and certain people in my life? Not do this in a way to beat myself up or be punitive or treat myself badly. It’s taking a good, hard look at my tendency in the past to get fed up, frustrated, sad, disappointed, and then throw my hands up and say, “Fuck it. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
I want to say there’s nothing wrong with leaving a situation if you don’t feel in alignment with it, leaving a relationship if you feel like it’s no longer serving you or your heart’s not in anymore. There’s a lot of rhetoric and I want to color what I’m about to say, Whit. There are many memes and many quotes that we see online like, “Never give up. Don’t abandon your dreams. Keep going.” In some situations, that can be sage and accurate advice. I do think though it’s up to each one of us to realize when something has “run its course” and it’s time to leave a situation.
I’ve also been reflecting on the opposite of this, Whitney. I’ve been in relationships and situations, jobs or romantic partnerships where I’ve stayed way past the expiration date out of fear of hurting someone, out of fear of disappointing someone, or out of fear of disappointing myself. It’s like, “You’re a fucking failure, Jason. You failed again. You failed another project. You failed in another relationship.” The flip side of leaving things too early is I’ve also looked at situations and thought, “I stayed in that way too long,” which can also lead to regret. I should have trusted my heart and instinct and left that situation earlier.
Regret is this nuanced, tricky thing that I’ve been sitting with. Before I get into some of these articles that I mentioned that I’ve been researching, clinical psychologists have written some of these articles talking about how to get over serious regret. I want to pass the baton to you and ask what your relationship is with regret. Do you feel it? How often do you feel it? What situations trigger it for you? What does this bring up when we’re talking about this subject?Never give up, don't abandon your dreams, and keep going. Click To Tweet
At this moment, I’m semi regretting eating these ENERGYbits. Have they stayed in my teeth? Are my teeth blue or yellow from the spirulina?
You’ve got a couple of blue bits. You’re not looking like you took a bite out of Incredible Hulk if that’s what you’re asking.
That’s good. They’re tasty. These have grown on me. It’s a little preview of what we do over at This Hits The Spot. I don’t know if I’ll talk about these there. I was feeling low energy and I had some packets that I can’t remember who it was that gave it to me. It was either Michelle or Tony, our friends. One of them gave these to me. I’ve been enjoying them. The downside is they get stuck in your teeth a little bit. I pick them out of my teeth and my nails get blue from it. Maybe you’re not supposed to chew them. Do you think maybe you’re supposed to swallow them?
Here’s the deal, I’ve had those before and I had the same issue. I have big molars. I have deep pits in my molars. Things like that get stuck in my teeth. I started swallowing them like supplements instead of chewing them.
It says right on the back that you can swallow or chew, but most prefer to swallow. Although I find the crunch and the texture of them satisfying. I like the taste. I don’t think swallowing them like a supplement would be satisfying. Anyways, I don’t regret it. Maybe it’s not the wisest choice while on a show, but that’s how it goes sometimes. In a serious sense of regret, I don’t know that I have many regrets. One thing that comes to mind is when you were talking about the career side of things, Jason. Sometimes I do regret, like you, giving up on things too early and that’s interesting. I think about this almost every single day and the pressure that I felt to accomplish certain things.
There have been times over the years where I’ve wondered, “What if I had stuck with something a little bit longer? What if I had started something earlier?” That’s taught me to not give up as early, to continue down the path of something even if I don’t feel like it’s going to go well. This show, for example. You and I had no idea. For some reason, this show is simple and I feel motivated. It doesn’t take a lot of energy.
I was also thinking about this. There’s a TikTok channel that specifically supports low-energy content creators. I think a lot about how I have low energy and that’s led me to not creating or sticking with certain things. I tend to get energy from positive reinforcement. If I don’t have a lot of positive reinforcement or the right kind or a consistent amount of it, I tend to lose interest in things. It’s a little different with this show, but that’s because it doesn’t feel as high energy as creating video content does.
I bring that up because there have been many projects on YouTube, for example, that I stopped doing because I felt like, “Not enough people care or it’s not cool or working.” Some time would pass and other people would have a lot of success from the thing that I had done and I would wonder, “What if I continued doing it now that is becoming a trend?” Specifically, when I started my What A Vegan Eats YouTube channel. That was back in 2011 or 2012. It’s funny to think back on this because some of the videos were shot using a flip cam. They were those little cameras, which were cool back then. 2008 is when they came out around and it was like, “This is amazing.”
It’s also interesting because the iPhone came out in 2007. Maybe the flip cameras came out earlier. Maybe in the beginning days of the iPhone, people weren’t creating videos there. I didn’t use my iPhone to make videos until maybe 2010 or 2011, but I was using that flip cam. I don’t know if it was like a storage thing on the phone. I need to go back. I’m curious. I was using that old camera to record videos at stores or restaurants. I was experimenting with taking photos of my food. People thought I was weird. They didn’t understand why I was doing that.
I had this whole YouTube channel, which you can still go lookup. It’s called What A Vegan Eats. It was me documenting the things that I ate. I’m interested in it because This Hits The Spot is not that different. It’s an evolution of that. I didn’t keep up with it. Off and on, I did. The last video I made was probably 2018 or 2019. In the beginning, I didn’t feel super motivated. There then became this huge trend of people vlogging what they ate.
The trend, What I Eat In a Day, is fairly popular. That was not happening when I started that YouTube channel. I felt like I was doing something weird and not cool and then it became cool, but I’d already paused long enough and lost interest in it. I was like, “What if I kept making those videos? Maybe I would have been ahead of my time. By the time they caught on, I would have had all this momentum.” That’s happened a few times. I feel like there were some other types of trends that I didn’t keep up with or platforms I gave up on.
I often wonder about TikTok. It’s strange, but I also have this awareness now of why I stopped. That’s an important element. When we think about regret, hindsight is different than how it feels in the moment when you’re making the decision. For me, I know that I want feedback, a positive reinforcement to continue. If I don’t get it, it’s hard for me to push through that. Certainly, I could push through it. It’s not impossible. Certainly, I could find other forms of motivation. If that’s my tendency, then I can’t regret not pushing through if that makes sense because I made a decision based on what felt important for me at the time.
Right now, for example, I could easily regret not keeping up with my momentum on TikTok. I had my video go viral in January or February 2021. I lost the motivation because it became exhausting. Here we are in August 2021 and I’m still exhausted even at the thought of making content. I’ve thought a lot about whether or not I should push through it. How can I regain that energy? How can I feel more motivated to do something despite being low energy? I don’t know if that’s fair to me or right for me in the long run.
You’re bringing up relationships. At the moment, if you felt you shouldn’t be in that relationship, you should end that relationship, you are probably right. Maybe your perspective or the circumstances changed afterward. If you didn’t have that information at the time that it’s not that you made the wrong decision at the time, it’s that you weren’t in the same headspace that you are in now looking back on it.
It’s important for us to honor the fact that we’re doing the best that we can with the information that we have, the energy that we have, the place that we’re at, and all the factors that come together for us to make a decision I suppose. It’s that sliding glass moment, “What if I had made a different decision?” We’ll never be able to know. I don’t sit with a lot of regrets or allow them to linger for too much. I try to remember why I decided on something and then also see if I can learn some lessons.
If there’s a true regret, a regret that seems valid, I did something at the time, I made a mistake, or I made a conscious decision to do something that hurt me or someone else, I could see why there might be some regret there because I was more aware of it. Maybe, “I should have known better.” That’s even weird to say. It’s like, “What do you mean you should have known better?” Part of the reason that phrase, in particular, bothers me is that I feel like there’s a lot of shame in that. I’m sensitive to shame. The older I get, the more confident I become and the more that I work through all these old mentalities, I feel like shame does not serve us whatsoever.If in the moment you feel like you shouldn't be in that relationship, you should end it. Click To Tweet
I was raised with a lot of shame. Shame was used as a parenting tactic and maybe even a schooling tactic. When I look back over things, my parents, people around me, my teacher, or any authority figure said to me that there was a lot of shame. It’s disturbing because it didn’t work. It made me feel worse about myself. It did not serve the good that they intended on. Maybe there was a short-term impact.
I had this flashback to some small thing that happened with a babysitter. We were at the aquarium or something like that. I don’t know how old I was. I’m fairly certain my sister was there. I must have been at least 6, 8, or maybe 10 years old. The babysitter and her boyfriend were there and they said that if I behaved or if I was nice to my sister, I could have ice cream. I did something, which I don’t recall what it was. I do remember it was outside and we were around a fountain or something. I did something, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and it was to mess with my sister and it made her upset.
They shamed me and told me I couldn’t have ice cream. I remember being a little kid being like, “Why can’t I have ice cream?” It’s that classic punishing technique. My heart goes out to this small little kid who didn’t understand the consequences. Some people think those are important learning lessons. The fact that this random memory got triggered in my head, I wonder if those consequences serve me or they caused this lingering shame and hurt within me. Was it worth it for me to knock at the ice cream that day? I don’t know.
I’ve done a lot of babysitting. Even though I’m not a parent, I understand the tactic of trying to reward or punish. Sometimes when I think about myself as a child, I’m like, “Eww.” Maybe it all makes sense now. Maybe that’s why I give up if I don’t get rewards. Maybe I’m like, “No reward here. I’m going to pivot and make a different decision.” Does that cause long-term negative effects in us? Does that limit our abilities to stick with something or make not right decisions but make stronger decisions or something? We do become conditioned to fear and punishment, which is a challenge for me. I try to avoid punishment and seek out rewards. Does that cause me to not stick with something long enough to experience the fullness of it?
It brings up this reward versus punishment binary framework. There are a lot of nuances here psychologically for each one of us. What you’re talking about, Whitney, you talked about shame. Shame is an intertwined part of this conversation. If I look at the mechanics of regret for me as I break it down, a big part of it is, “Had I stuck with the person, the thing, the project, the band, or the job longer, maybe I’d have more rewards. Maybe I’d be happier. Maybe I’d be wealthier. Maybe my stock portfolio would look better. Maybe instead of renting, I’d own my home right now. I’d have a nicer car. I wouldn’t be struggling as much financially, etc.”
For me, at least, a central component of this regret conversation is if I look back, there are three situations come to mind business-wise. At the time, I felt like I deserved more money and I said no to certain things because I was confident that I could force my hand, play my chip, walk away, and be like, “I don’t want your money. Here’s what I want.” “We can’t pay you that much.” It was like, “I got to walk away from that thing.” Now reflecting back, in some cases, the money was good. At that time, I might have been maybe a little too much in my ego.
It’s a tricky thing. When we talk about valuing ourselves, it’s a tricky part of this conversation because it’s like, “That’s not valuing me.” In these certain instances, I’d look back and part of the regret is had I said yes to those things, in retrospect, I might be in a different financial abundance situation now. That’s my whole thing. For me, the regret part is like, “I might be in a ‘better’ life situation if I’d made a different decision.”
When you’re saying that, it triggered another memory of mine because I was sitting here wondering what you regret, specifically which business experiences you’re talking about. It’s bringing up more memories the more we discuss this. One that came to mind that I do regret is when you and I turned down going on the vegan cruise the second time. Remember that? I’m curious if anyone following the show was on that cruise. We met some amazing people that were part of our social media life for years to come. It was a fabulous time.
They invited me and Jason, Chris and Jon from The Vegan Zombie, and Isa, the cookbook author. Miyoko was there. It’s an amazing group. That was the first time they did it. We got to go on this cool cruise. We were in a group of vegans and it was in Holland America. There were 1,200 people. Maybe 50 to 100 of us were vegan. It was awesome. In exchange for the cruise, Jason and I had to give some presentations and then also participate. We didn’t get paid for it, but we got the entire experience covered, even our flights out there. What they gave us in exchange was awesome. We had an amazing time.
When they invited us back for the next cruise, which was an honor, Jason and I both felt like we should be compensated because we had to take ten days off from our lives to go on a week-long cruise plus travel. We gave multiple presentations and we were expected to be part of all the activities. While it sounds like it was a great exchange in terms of us having this free vacation, it wasn’t a vacation. We were working every day. We had to pay the expenses of pet sitters and all the other stuff that was going on. Jason and I both thought, “We should ask them if they’ll compensate us as well.” They said, “No.” At the time, it was like, “Whatever.” To your point, Jason, it’s like, “I don’t care.”
I don’t know if it was that next cruise or the one following it. I know at least that Chris and Jon from The Vegan Zombie went on. Miyoko went as well. It was some of the core people. They went to Alaska. I regret not being part of that cruise because I want to go to Alaska. At the time, I was like, “Alaska, whatever.” Now I’m like, “I cannot believe that I passed up the opportunity to go on a free cruise to Alaska.” It’s a perfect example of what I said earlier, Jason. I’m curious how much of you can agree with this despite the fact that you have some financial regrets.
At the time, it did not feel honoring to me or the others. I felt like it wasn’t quite being taken advantage of, but I know the value. Miyoko is an insane person. It’s also worth noting, Jason, that Miyoko was getting started with her cheeses at that time. Now, look at her. Her company is worth a lot of money. It’s not directly related to the cruise. You can see the trajectory of her career from them. In terms of The Vegan Zombie, I don’t quite know how they’re doing these days. Chris has a podcast and they’re still doing their thing on social media and YouTube and all that.
There’s part of me that’s glad that you and I set those boundaries, Jason. Energetically, while I may regret not being part of that cruise, I also know that I could if I wanted to save up and go on that same cruise myself paying out of pocket. While it’s not the same as free, I also would get to enjoy a full vacation. Maybe that would be a better choice for me. I also know that cruise did not make or break my career. Miyoko’s success is little if anything to do with that cruise. Miyoko went on the cruise to enjoy herself. It’s not a huge career mistake. It was like, “It would have been fun to go to Alaska,” if that makes sense.
With you, Jason, the opposite could have been true too. I’ve looked back at some of the things I’ve said yes to and they didn’t do anything except give me some money that is already gone now. There are a few companies I’ve worked with on brand deals. One, in particular, paid me a solid amount of money, but it was such a pain in the ass to work on that campaign. It was a paycheck that I didn’t even feel was worth the amount of frustration that I had during the experience. It did nothing for my career. I’ve had many examples of that too, Jason, of taking less than I felt like I deserved and then feeling like I don’t know if it was worth it. I know you have too, haven’t you? To give yourself the contrast when you’re thinking about regret in terms of your business, I feel like you have as many times where you said yes to something and felt a little taken advantage of or something along those lines. Would you agree?
I would agree. If I may, in some ways, part of this is reframing the past to be kinder to ourselves. Not to lie to ourselves, not to engage in some fantastical illusion, but it’s something that I remember I first practiced when I went to the school for The Work with Byron Katie. We’ve mentioned Byron Katie on the show before and I had such a wonderful experience doing her school for The Work. In that experience, it was my first time practicing reframing the past, Whitney.
When we talk about regret and we’re talking about specifically what you brought up, the number of times that we have said yes to things that may be on an intuitive level, there was a part of us that was like, “You shouldn’t take this.” For me at least, fear and desperation were stronger at that point than intuition. It was like, “You need to pay the rent, look at all your bills, look at all your debt. You’re running your business on your own. What the fuck are you going to do?”
To be kind to myself and not to beat myself up over decisions like that, an unkind way would be to look back on a situation or situations like that and go, “What a fucking asshole you were. You made decisions out of fear and desperation. How could you do that?” It’s not kind. To reframe it on a pragmatic level, you could say, “If you look at making a responsible adult decision, you have bills to pay, debt, rent, pets, etc. To be a responsible human being in the mode of chopping wood and carrying water, sometimes you need to say yes to things to put food on the table and keep the roof over the head.”Be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up over past decisions. Click To Tweet
On a deeper level with this whole reframing conversation, I’ve talked about in previous episodes of one of the deepest traumas that I continue to work through was the feeling of being abandoned and abused by my father. Part of my work has been feeling like I’m never good enough because my dad left and abandoned me. Had I “been good enough” as a kid, he wouldn’t have left. I know, logically, that is not true. As a child, that was the framework I created.
A reframe around something like that was when I was practicing this is like, “You were a shitty kid. That’s why dad left.” That’s a painful thing to carry through one’s life. A more accurate and truthful reframe would be, “My father didn’t want to be a father. True. He didn’t have the skills emotionally to raise a child or be a responsible father because he was dealing with his drug and alcohol addictions, his emotional demons, so he left.” That’s a much kinder, more accurate framing of the past than, “Dad left because you were a shitty child,” or whatever I believed.
When it comes to regret, I have found, Whitney, especially in these 3 to 4 months of ruminating on these situations, being kind to myself and saying, “You did the best you could at the moment with what you had. You did the best you could with your emotional intelligence, your emotional maturity.” Yes, did you make some decisions out of fear? I have. I’ve made many decisions out of fear. I’ve made many decisions out of desperation. I’m trying to forgive myself for the decisions I made when I was afraid and desperate. Part of my big work right now is looking at these situations and giving myself more love and saying, “You can acknowledge that you made these out of fear and desperation. Can you love and forgive yourself even in spite of that?”
Speaking of techniques, I mentioned earlier that I was looking for some articles from licensed psychotherapists on dealing with regret. I found a great article by Alice Boyes, who is a practicing psychotherapist on Psychology Today and it’s called 5 Tips for Coping with Regret. I wanted to also dive into another article that is even better than this one called How to Overcome Serious Regrets. It’s on wikiHow and it was authored by a professional counselor named Trudi Griffin. It’s from March 25th, 2021. It goes into the mechanics of understanding regret and blaming ourselves.
This is an interesting thing because it talks about the difference, Whitney, between productive and unproductive regret. It says, “Productive regret can help you learn to change your behavior for the future. Unproductive regret, where you completely blame and self-immolate, can create chronic stress and emotional pain, which can lead to health problems.” I didn’t know. I wasn’t even aware that productive regret was even a thing. That hits me in a weird way when I read about productive regret. I wonder if that can help “change” our behavior for future decisions. How does that hit you? When you hear the word productive regret, do you feel like that’s a thing for you? That’s my first time reading that phrase. I’m scratching my head a little bit over that one.
It feels similar to beneficial regret, I suppose, where sometimes regretting something helps us make different decisions in the future. That’s a huge part of the psychology of our society. I feel like that’s been drilled into us. Sometimes, you have to learn the hard way. I don’t know if that’s true. It’s a big question mark for me.
On the one hand, pain and suffering can be wonderful teachers in our lives. If I look at a lot of painful situations or the suffering that I have gone through, they’re great teachers. I don’t know about positive regret. I want to do a little more research on this. The second tip is to identify the core of the feelings of regret. This can be different from person to person, but feelings of regret include sadness, loss, remorse, anger, shame, and anxiety. You may think about what you said or did or acted, or you may think about what you would wish you had done differently to change your current situation.
Sometimes, my feelings of regret are like, “If I just made a different decision, my current life situation would be different and ‘better.’” She says, “Constant rethinking and regretting can cause massive anxiety. This may lead to worrying or second-guessing future decisions out of fear of regretting those.” That’s interesting because I feel like if we ruminate on regret too much, we may stop trusting ourselves in future decision-making, which I can 100% relate to, especially in the context of romantic relationships. You thought you knew that person or you thought that you could trust your heart and look, it ended up fucking going to hell. How are you going to be able to trust your decisions on a person moving forward? That’s a huge one for me.
Sometimes when relationships end, Whitney, I feel like, “Fuck. How could you have misjudged that person’s character?” That’s a form of regret and that can lead to worrying whether or not we can trust our intuition or our character assessment in whatever our next relationship might be. That’s something I still sit with sometimes, being afraid that I can’t trust myself. The third point here, interestingly, is, “Consider where your regret comes from, thinking about what’s causing your regret. People can feel regretful for a litany of reasons.”
There are five different categories. Lifestyle. People regret moving to a different country or may wish they hadn’t turned down a house offer. Work, people may regret not following a different career path or pursuing their dreams in life. Family, people may regret not settling disputes with a family member or friend, especially if that other person has passed away. They may regret not spending more time with their children because they work too much or spending time with their older family members at the end of their lives.
Children. People may regret starting a family. For example, maybe you started a family because you wanted to make your spouse’s dream come true or make them happy. The last one is the category of marriage. People may regret getting married at the timing of their marriage or their choice of partner. Some may regret even getting married at all. This comes back to something you mentioned, Whitney, in a previous episode of people coming out with more articles and books publicly talking about regretting having children or regretting parenthood.
If people were more honest with themselves, people will regret a lot of shit and they don’t speak about it publicly. I don’t want to say everyone, but admitting regret feels shameful in a lot of cases. “I didn’t want these kids to begin with. I did it to please my partner.” “I didn’t want to get married, but my family pressured me into doing it.” Regret is a lot more common and a lot of people are terrified to admit that they’ve regretted these massive life decisions. Would you agree with that assessment?
Perhaps. It’s tricky because now I’m trying to think of it in terms of what I was saying earlier. In a previous episode, I was talking about getting the COVID vaccine. What’s the point of regretting it? I don’t regret it. Let’s say in the future I do. All these people speculate long-term health risks of getting the vaccine, which I don’t know or believe to be true at the moment, but what if they turn out to be true? Is it worth regretting something that I can’t take back?
For some reason, it flashed in my head as my brain is processing this. In the book Stealing Fire, there was a conversation around the human drive to find pleasure and altered states of consciousness. There is one example of people doing wingsuit jumps. They could become so addicted to the adrenaline and the way that their state changed when they were doing these dangerous activities. There’s one story of these two guys that attempted this huge jump and they both were killed. I remember listening to that thinking, “I wonder, in the split second before they died, if regret passed their mind or if maybe they don’t even have a chance to process it.”
We have to trust that those guys knew the risk and made a decision. Maybe in their heads, they might think, “I might regret this,” but you don’t know until something happens, and then at a certain point, you can’t take it back. You can’t come back from death and be like, “I regret doing that.” Your brain doesn’t function that way. I know that’s different from regretting having kids, but it’s a permanent decision that you make.
In your circumstance with your father, Jason, he was able to leave, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t exist. He’ll always be a father to you. You can’t change that, but he made the decision to leave his responsibility as a father. That’s different. I’m sure there’s plenty of cases of people doing this. There’s a lot of examples of parents regretting it, and then taking some action as a result of it that is probably not good for their kid and that’s sad. Some of those people made a decision to have children and others made a decision to have sex and not be safe or maybe they weren’t as safe as they thought they might be.
You and I were talking about the festival, Lollapalooza, that ended in Chicago. That’s a whole other story, but I am so curious to see how that pans out because there were 100,000 people at this outdoor music festival. Even though many of them are vaccinated, most of them weren’t wearing masks. We’ve seen some data about the transmission rates amongst vaccinated people. Personally, I would not make the decision to go to an event like that, but let’s say I did. Do I regret it? Are people going to regret going to that event? What would it cause? What would have to happen for someone to regret doing that?Pain and suffering can be wonderful teachers in our lives. Click To Tweet
I wonder if any stories are going to come out. I did see one TikTok of a girl who was, after Lollapalooza, feeling so strongly about wearing masks. She went on this whole rant on TikTok about how ridiculous it was that people weren’t wearing masks. She didn’t learn that lesson until she went to this big event. That’s the consequence of it. Another part of me thinks, “Maybe these people were believing what they were told by the CDC or by the mayor of their city, who said it’s perfectly fine to go to this festival.” How much of our decisions are based on information that doesn’t support us? Do we get set up for disaster in some cases?
We’ve seen so many actual disaster stories. One that comes to mind is the ferryboat accident that happened. It was in an Asian country. A bunch of students was on this ferry and the ferry sank. They were told to remain inside the boat. If I remember this correctly, the workers on the boat were telling everyone to not panic and stay where they were. People died in the ship when they would have benefited by trying to get out of it and save themselves. It was one of those horrible things where these people were trying to respect authority and thinking that authority knew best for them, but it cost them their lives.
There’s a lot of cases, too, Jason, where there’s regret, but I go back to, did you make a decision thinking that you were safe? Did you make a decision having the wrong information? How far do you blame yourself for something? How much do you reflect on what led you up to that moment? How much of it was based on trust or ignorance?
I would be willing to bet that in the great majority of those cases, people felt in the moment that they were doing the right thing. Maybe they felt like they were doing the right thing by having sex and that’s what got them pregnant. Maybe they thought that they were doing the right thing with the sexual protection they were using. Maybe they thought they were doing the right thing by having children, but they changed their minds later. Your former self made this decision for a reason. How much do you beat up your former self? How does that serve you in the present moment? How does that serve others, too? That’s the other question.
When you and I specifically look at these stories of people regretting parenthood, it’s like, “Are we just attracted to them because we’re trying to figure out whether or not we want to be parents?” What does somebody else’s decision to be a parent have to do with our decision to be a parent? Sometimes, the stories of regret are shown to encourage other people to not make the same choices. Is regret used against us in a lot of ways?
I’m seeing this a lot in the news in terms of people getting sick from COVID and regretting not getting the vaccine. Every time I see them, I’m like, “Is the media trying to convince people to get the vaccines and using other people’s misfortune as a manipulation tactic?” I don’t know. Even though I decided to get the vaccine and I don’t regret getting it, and I see a lot of data showing that the vaccine makes sense from my perspective, it still makes me wonder when I see new stories like that. How much of that is used to manipulate us? Why are we using someone else’s misfortune as a way to motivate somebody else to not make the “same mistake?” Why are we shaming someone for being vaccine-hesitant? Jason, let’s say that you got COVID and you were like, “I regret not getting the vaccine.” How awful of a friend would I be if I’d be like, “I told you so?” That’s so shitty.
We would be over, first of all, but I know you wouldn’t do that.
Honestly, I might be tempted. I remember at the beginning stages of COVID, I had at least one friend who leaned towards believing that it was not real. This friend was like, “Don’t worry about it. It’s just made up.” They were so laid back about this and there was part of me that hoped that this person would be impacted directly by COVID so that I could feel a sense of I told you so. I’m the type of person that usually says I told you so, but there was this desire of wanting them to regret it. That’s another part of this, too. That desire to prove someone wrong, I’ll admit it, it comes up in me and I examine it. I’m like, “That’s a little messed up, Whitney. Maybe you should shift your thinking.”
Many of us are conditioned into that mentality. I was raised with a lot of this mentality. I was raised with hearing phrases like, “I told you so. I told you not to do it. Now you have to pay the consequences. You should regret your action.” That was a big part of my upbringing. Of course, those thoughts will still linger in my head sometimes. They’re old ways of thinking for me. I have to become aware of it and go, “Would I want someone to say I told you so? Would I want someone to feel a little satisfaction if I did something that they thought was wrong and I messed up?” A lot of us have that deep fear of making a mistake and other people seeing it. We have so much shame in that, but at the same time, a lot of us love to see other people make mistakes. It’s messed up.
The parenting part of this that you brought up and these messages you received as a child are probably common. I’d be willing to bet a lot of people are shaking their heads and can relate to this type of parenting communication style. When I think about it, this thing you describe, Whitney, is being done under the guise of like, “I’m going to teach my child some life lessons they can use.” How I interpret it is a massive amount of narcissism and ego. “I told you. You shouldn’t have done that. What did they tell you? Now, look what you’ve got to deal with.”
It’s a control tactic.
Think about how that parenting style meshes and merges with a lot of the educational style from teachers that we had. I was thinking about this in my kitchen. I was thinking about the teachers that impacted my life, the ones that I recall that made a huge difference in my personal, creative, and cognitive development throughout my life, and none of them had the approach we’re talking about. They did not come to the classroom with this, “Do as I say, not as I do,” type of approach and also this punitive framework of, “If you fuck up, there’s going to be a price to pay and you better learn.”
If you think about it from a parental perspective and you think about it from an educational perspective, and let’s go a layer deeper, let’s go to the religious perspective now. When I say this, I am not throwing anyone in particular under the bus. When you look at something like the Ten Commandments or you look at the Tenets of Islam or you look at other religions, there’s a thread through of, “If you choose this action, you will incur the wrath of God. If you incur the wrath of God, let’s look at the historical record. Plagues, locusts, floods, the destruction of the world, the killing of all the firstborn in Egypt.” From a biblical perspective, there’s a framework of, “If you make God angry, you’re going to pay.”
Don’t forget though, the original sin, which is eating the apple from the tree.
The knowledge of good and evil.
You ate the apple, now you have to pay the price and so does all of humanity. Glennon Doyle talked about that in her book, Untamed, and that’s such a messed-up message. Sometimes, the pressure causes us to do the exact things somebody doesn’t want us to do. It’s such a classic thing with children. You tell them not to do something and a lot of them want to do it simply because you told them not to.
I don’t remember exactly how the Adam and Eve story goes. In my head, it’s just a story. I know that other people have different beliefs on the Bible. That’s not what I intend it to be. It seems bizarre to me that a lot of the messaging that’s in those stories, if you internalize that messaging, it can do a lot of damage. I had a lot of religious nannies. I remember the subtle energy behind their care tactics and how, as a little kid, I either felt afraid or I felt deeply uncomfortable. It’s like, “This doesn’t feel right to me.” Even as a little child, I remember not wanting to be around those nannies.
That’s interesting, too, because if you reflect back on what you felt as a child, it tells you a lot. As kids, many of us are conditioned to ignore those feelings. It’s like, “This is your nanny and your nanny knows best, so you got to go with whatever the nanny says.” This is bringing me down. I’m going through in my head all the different nannies I had and how a few of them were religious and said or did some messed up shit to me as a little kid.You can't control a person who's unafraid. Click To Tweet
My parents both grew up in religious households, but neither of them continued to go to church or they didn’t place much emphasis. I wasn’t raised with a lot of religion. It was more like the undertone of it. My mom would say things to me like, “God’s punishing you.” If I did something or I messed up, that phrase was big time when I was a little kid. If I did something “bad” and then I tripped and fell, that’s a response that my mom would say to me.
My nannies might have said that to me as well. That was how my mom was raised. I don’t know if she believed it or if that was her way of taking out her responsibility like, “I’m not punishing you, Whitney, but God is punishing you for your actions, so you better not do it again because you’ll continue to get punished.” Maybe that’s why I felt uncomfortable around religion because I was like, “I don’t want to be punished.” I also just want to live my life. I don’t want to feel like every mistake is looming over my head as a punishment.
This was the exact reason why, as a young man, I went to my mother and said, “I don’t want to go to church anymore.” I was raised in a Catholic family on both sides. We learned later that I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, but we didn’t grow up in the religion of Judaism. We grew up in a Catholic family. On that side of my mom, Polish-Italian, we learned later Ashkenazi Jew-Catholic. On my dad’s side, Puerto Rican-Spanish, also Catholic. Catholicism was the dominant religion of my entire life and my entire family.
I remember as a kid going to church and going to Bible class. I went to Sunday school and attended religiously. Pun intended. I remember digging into parts of the Bible and having conversations with my mom like, “In this part of the Bible, it says God is all-loving, all generous, all protecting. God loves you. In this part of the Bible, He’s killing a bunch of people and He’s punishing people.” I remember in my young mind going, “How is this compatible if, on the one hand, God loves you and God sees you, He sees everything you do, but if you do something against His will, He will destroy you?” To me, that didn’t make sense and that wasn’t compatible.
It seems like that archetype informs a lot of people’s parenting styles. “I love you. I care for you. If you piss me off or do something wrong, I’m going to punish you. I’m going to spank you. I’m going to be physically violent with you.” This is not to say that I don’t think boundaries, structure, and rules are a bad thing when it comes to a parent-child relationship. Children absolutely need a sense of ethics and structure.
The confusing part is this thing you detailed with your mom’s language of, “See? God’s punishing you.” That’s a dangerous thing to inject into a child’s consciousness because then we go through our lives potentially fearing choosing something that maybe we feel is right to do, but we fear being punished by God, universe, spirit, or whatever your belief systems are. That can take decades to undo.
This is my personal belief. Many of the tenets of organized religion and the reason that I left the Catholic church and Catholic religion was I started to identify, in my opinion, there were a lot of mechanisms of control I did not agree with. I said, “My heart and my spirit say something is wrong about this and I don’t agree with it.”
We look at capitalism and the educational system. There are a lot of systems, Whitney, that are designed to control people. Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” I’m not throwing all religions under the bus when I say that, but in a lot of central organized religions that have billions of dollars, if we look at the power of certain religions, they’re wealthy. Part of their central agenda is to control people’s minds and behavior. If people are not afraid, you can’t control a person who’s not afraid.
What’s the ultimate form of control? Damnation. “If you keep doing this, you’re going to go to a place called hell and you’re going to burn for eternity.” “I can’t even conceptualize that burn for all eternity. My mind can’t even wrap around that. That sounds scary as fuck. I better not do that thing or my soul is going to burn for eternity. That sounds crazy.” To the readers out there, I’m not saying you’re wrong. If you are a religious person, if you’re Catholic, I’m not saying you’re wrong. This is my opinion.We regret things, but we have to recognize that if we're doing the best that we can, maybe there wasn't another option. Click To Tweet
I realized as a young man, I didn’t agree with these. I felt they were manipulation tactics and I still do. That’s my opinion. It’s okay if you’re religious. I wholeheartedly disagree with you and that’s okay. We can disagree with each other. If we go back to shame and regret, in some ways, Whitney, these are learned behaviors from childhood, parents, education, and religion. We learn to be shameful and have regrets. In some ways, shame and regret can hold us back from living a full life because we’re afraid of being shamed or afraid of being talked down to. We’re afraid of eternal damnation. When you get into it, if you are a human being who is doing work on your psychology and your spirit as you get older, there’s a lot to undo. It’s almost overwhelming at times, truly.
It makes me feel like there is room for a more modern take on a lot of these things. It reminded me of a book I read when I was embracing Christianity for one of the strongest periods of my life in 2016 to 2017. I was going to church and I was active with my church. I enjoyed elements of that experience. One of the things that I did was go to a talk by this woman, Christine Caine. At the time, she was promoting her book called Unashamed. I resonated with a lot of the things that she said. I don’t remember all of it, but it was about being an unashamed Christian and not being hyper-focused on shame within your religion. That’s my viewpoint on it.
I believe there are approaches to religion that don’t have to integrate all of these things. I don’t think that there’s a blanket statement for what it means to be religious, believe in God, go to church, or integrate that in your life. I’m grateful that there are people out there speaking about this and finding ways to take a different approach. It just currently does not feel good to us, but maybe it doesn’t feel good to us because of some of our old traumas, our parent’s traumas, the way that they interpreted the Bible, and how they brought that into their parenting, or how our teachers did or people around us.
That’s what’s tricky about religious viewpoints. It’s got a lot to do with who you’re around and their experience. Of course, Catholicism has had some awful things going on in it that they were able to get away with because of the veil of religion. That’s a whole other subject matter. There are definitely flaws in the religious systems and people take advantage of it. Just because you’re religious, it doesn’t mean that you’re doing the right thing.
There are so many ways to have that deeper belief and relationship with God that don’t have to abide by these harmful rules and systems. That’s an important part of this conversation, too. It’s not super easy. Most people are truly doing the best that they can be based on what they know and the tools that they have. It’s hard to get by in this world without harming somebody else. Sometimes we regret things, but we have to recognize, if we’re doing the best that we can, maybe there isn’t another option.
That reminds me of this psychological test and I don’t remember all the details of it. I remember the visuals where people were studied by being asked the question, “Whose life would you save if there was a runaway train and you could flip a switch, and the switch would either run over children or run over one adult?” The person would have to decide. They know that they have to kill someone, but they have to make the decision about whose life is worth it. I don’t remember the outcome of that exact study, but I believe that’s a test that they use to understand somebody’s mental state. It’s like, “That’s tough.”
Sometimes we have to make decisions at the cost of somebody else or someone else or sometimes at the cost of ourselves. Even though we are doing the best that we could, we could live with so much shame and regret because we’ve been conditioned to do no harm. Sometimes harm is unavoidable and sometimes harm comes in forms that we have zero control over. That’s my big belief in all of this. Regret is a challenging thing that I don’t believe serves us much.
For you, dear reader, as we always do in our episodes here, we have more resources for you to dig into coping mechanisms if you feel regret in your life. I mentioned an interesting article on wikiHow earlier, and then also another one on Psychology Today. We also have links to our private podcast called This Hits The Spot. It’s a weekly summary into our favorite new products, services, books, resources, and things we’re using in our lives on a regular basis to make us feel better and improve our health and our mental wellness. If you haven’t checked that out yet, that is free to our newsletter subscribers. We have a video version and also a link with all of the products we talked about on that show for our Patreon members.
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