Healing Regrets and Breaking the Cycle of Rumination


One of my biggest regrets was not having spent more time enjoying life in high school. A classic over achiever and people pleaser, I spent most of my time trying to meet other people’s needs and earn their approval. I worked hard to impress my parents and teachers with good grades and athletic performances. I did my best to please my boyfriend by basically doing whatever I thought he wanted me to do (that didn’t end well…surprise, surprise). I didn’t make much time for just hanging out and having a good time. There were always those kids who met up after school or on the weekends to go skim boarding or play games or just chill…I was never that kid. I was the kid who was in a hurry to grow up and move on. Everything I did was either to build my college resume or earn the acceptance and approval of those closest to me. At the time I couldn’t really see what was happening, but when I went to college and my life fundamentally changed I realized how much time I had wasted.

With the loving support of my college roommates I began to grow beyond simply seeking approval. They accepted me for who I was, no matter how crazy or emotional I acted. Living in close quarters with two other women healed me of some of my approval seeking tendencies. They saw me at my highs and my lows and loved me anyway. With their help I began to see how enjoyable life could really be if you are true to yourself, but as I began to explore this new way of being I inevitably realized how destructive my high school years had been on me emotionally. I found myself constantly thinking about mistakes I had made that lead to pain, frustration and humiliation. My new found happiness  made me realize how unhappy I had been all those years and that frustrated me terribly. At times I obsessively relived mistake, after mistake, after mistake, belittling myself for not behaving differently and for not seeing how destructive my behaviors were at the time.

Eventually, I realized I had replaced approval seeking and neediness with another destructive mental habit: rumination. Rumination is the process of reliving past mistakes or negative experiences over and over again in your mind. It’s like regret on steroids! When I catch myself doing it I almost get a feeling of dizziness. The feeling it evokes in me is overwhelming and at times suffocating. The more I ruminate the more I see myself in a negative light. Suddenly every mistake I have ever made seems to be an indicator of a problem with me, as if I am not good enough to be a productive human being. It’s easy to go from rumination directly into feelings of worthlessness and self loathing.

As a healer it is my job to heal myself and find ways to cope with my problems. I have learned ways to avoid regrets and break the cycle of rumination, but I know that many people still struggle with these issues. Research conducted in the past decade indicates that rumination is associated with a wide range of mental health problems, such as anxiety, eating and substance abuse disorders and depression. Why do any of us take part in this repetitive negative thinking? Probably because it gives us the illusion of understanding our mistakes and hopefully fixing them. Reflecting on our mistakes can certainly be a useful and productive thing to do, but when we become fixated on every single thing that is wrong with us and constantly relive the moments we wish had been different, then we end up just turning ourselves into punching bags.

How can we stop this pattern? How can we heal ourselves and move forward with our lives? How can we learn from our mistakes without ruminating on them?

“Accept then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it…This will miraculously transform your whole life.” – Eckhart Tolle

The key to inner work always begins with acceptance. You must first accept things as they are, here and now. Try this activity. Sit down. Close your eyes. Take a slow deep breath. Feel the air as it enters and leaves your body. Relax all the muscles in your body, slowly. Pay careful attention to areas where you feel pain or tension. Breathe into those spaces and tell yourself quietly to relax. When you feel totally relaxed, say aloud or in your mind, “I accept myself exactly as I am.” This is where healing starts. I know it sounds contradictory, but trust me, if you want to change your life you must first accept things exactly as they are. Try looking into a mirror and saying the affirmation anytime you feel frustrated or disappointed. This will take some practice, but eventually it will feel more natural and you will start to believe it!

The second step to overcoming regret is action. You are constantly being given choices that will change your life and sometimes you will make the wrong choice. You know it is wrong because you will feel regret. In that way regret serves us as a teacher, showing us what we don’t want and helping us learn what we do want. When you feel regret you can immediately say to yourself, “Aha! Here is another thing I do not want to do because it causes me discomfort!” It’s that eureka moment that will help you take action and work in tandem with your regrets. Another way to work with regret is to consider how not doing something might feel. If the pain of NOT doing an action will be more psychologically painful, than the pain of doing an action then you should do it! There is great power in recognizing in the moment how to work with regret, but you must be fully present and aware in order to do this.

Finally, (and this is kind of a no-brainer, but still worth mentioning) the best way to overcome regret is to never let it get to you in the first place. Listening to your conscience is hard to do, but not listening to it is usually the cause of regrets. In our society we are encouraged to act just like everybody else, to be a part of the machine and not make waves, but this is a recipe for living a life full of regrets. If you never rock the boat a little how will you find out what you are really made of? I know it’s hard to stand up and embrace the things that are a little bit different about you (trust me, I’m an energy healer, people think I’m weird all the time!), but it’s worth it. I feel so much better in my own skin knowing that I don’t let my fears of what people will think of me stop me from doing what I really want to do. It’s like my husband always reminds me, “be yourself and the world will adjust.” It’s true, you know. The world will adjust, and if you ask me it’s in dire need of some major adjustment!

If you struggle with letting go of regrets or exhibit the tendency to ruminate I encourage you to consider trying what I have outlined above. It worked for me and I have seen it work for others. All healing is self healing, no one can make you do it, but if you want to you are capable of amazing feats of healing and growth. Now is the moment to begin. Now is the time to let go and move forward.

“Understand this:  Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.” Eckhart Tolle






If you are in need of assistance I offer healing services. Please connect with me by visiting my website or commenting below. 


Kay Metzelaars
Kay is certified Yoga instructor, Reiki master, Intuitive Tarot Reader, and public speaker. She is a former Teach For America teacher and studied philosophy and psychology at the University of Portland. She is passionate about empowering individuals to take their health and wellness into their own hands through spiritual practices such as Yoga and Reiki, as well as proper eating and exercise. She teaches that compassion, understanding, empathy and forgiveness are essential to being a happy human. She offers classes, workshops and retreats and runs a small private practice in southern, IL.