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Anger & Regrets: Meltdowns & Recovery

This has been a hard week.


I haven't been at my best lately, I'm weak, in pain, and anxious. A few days ago I had a total meltdown, hurting the feelings of people I care most about along the way. I stewed in my anger for a couple of days, but finally it began to dawn on me that I was on the verge of losing people I love, and it was a harsh awakening. It's hard to mend damaged relationships when you've said things you didn't really mean, or even if you did mean what you said, you regret expressing it so hurtfully.

I don't want to be ruled by anger. Like the snide gossip who tries to make themselves feel better by running others down, self-righteously lashing out at others is a strong indication that you feel your life is out of your own control. I don't want to be that kind of person, who's driven every one they love away through their own foolish and prideful self-assurance that they're right in feeling wronged, and everyone had better know it.

You'd think I'd have outgrown making the same mistakes over and over at my age, nearing 60, and for the most part, I'm improving, but still have a long way to go. I suppose it's an uphill battle, fighting against the essential human condition of continuing to do things the way we always have unless forced to do them differently. Unless we're capable of honestly examining our own mistakes and retraining ourselves to act differently, we'll insanely keep right on making the same mistakes, expecting different outcomes – until the last time, saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at a very, very wrong moment in time, which can be a fatal error.

I still have memories which keep me awake at night, wishing I could take back what I said or did, because I not only lost the regard of people whose opinion I care about, but I know I could and should have done differently, and now I can never take it back. I've had regrets like ever since I can remember, when childishly blurting things out ended friendships or resulted in a punch in the nose. I'm no longer a child, but still, particularly when I'm stressed or emotional, end up with foot-in-mouth because I just let loose, speak too bluntly, and erroneously paint things in terms of “you always” or “you never.”

So this is an advice column to myself. I can be very persuasive, kind, and tactful when I'm at my best, so instead of speaking my mind without regard for how it sounds to the one I'm speaking to or to others who may overhear, I know I can do differently. I have choices: I don't have to keep reacting, I can take control of myself and the situation by avoiding a reaction. When I feel hurt or angry, I can take a really deep breath and whenever possible, just shut the f#ck up until I know the right thing to say to get the results I want. Unlike opportunities to be kind or encouraging, which you may never get back again, there are ample opportunities to express negativity. You don't have to wing it, and you shouldn't. Zingers may work well in sit-coms, but they have no place in achieving the Good Life.

There are so many contradictory quotes and proverbs about expressing yourself, some urging giving free rein to your thoughts, to speaking your mind without worrying about what others think, while others urge you to always think before you speak. There are hundreds of quotes from famous people insisting they have no regrets, while others say it's natural to have regrets. The best advice comes from Kelsey Grammer, who says that the important thing is to learn from your mistakes and move on. The saying that seems most apt here is of unknown origin: "The written word can be erased -- not so with the spoken word." On the other hand, this quote must pre-date the internet.

I believe, in my infinite wisdom, that if you've hurt someone you care about or even someone you don't particularly care about, you must acknowledge to yourself that in any argument, you were at least in some part in the wrong, and then with all generosity of spirit, go to those you've hurt, take responsibility, and apologize. Apologies aren't a sign of weakness, it shows great strength of character to acknowledge your own mistakes without justifying them to yourself, and great courage to seek out the wronged party and let them know you know you were wrong. They still may never forgive you, but it's the right thing to do, and if you're a person of integrity and you don't do it, it will fester and inflame your spirit like a splinter.

As H.L. Mencken said, "The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught." When people say they have no regrets, I don't believe they really have none. Either they're putting up a front, or they mean that they've consciously decided to put regrets behind them, and refused to obsess over them, because what's been done can't be undone. Rather than regretting, they've chosen to learn from their mistakes, make amends when they can, and move on. Putting this conscious choice into practice will keep me out of trouble and help me sleep at night.

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