Into the Abyss Part VI

Step 4: Facing Yourself – The healing power of regret

The next aspect we will tackle is a topic we have touched on already throughout these essays, but we now hope to discuss in the practical realm. The question we have really left out thus far is; What do we do practically when we let ourselves down. Aside from simple acknowledgment of wrong doing, how does one go about harnessing the power of regret to heal our bruised and broken spirits?

The process of harnessing the power of regret begins by drawing our awareness to the discomfort we feel in our bodies (i.e. “in our hearts”) when we experience healthy guilt (non-shame based guilt). This means working to develop an awareness of the perspective that the discomfort we are feelings at that time is not a secondary and negative consequence of our bad behavior, rather, it is the feeling of our souls healing. The premise here is that implanted within us is an automatic mechanism that heals our broken spirit and what that healing feels like is the guilt we experience when we are in regret. We don’t need to run from these feelings, we can actually lean in to them. These feelings are not the maladaptive and dysfunctional feelings of shame and self pity we have become used to, we are abandoning those. Instead, we can seek to look in the mirror and acknowledge that we have disrespected ourselves and our values. We are good people earnestly seeking to get well. We deserve compassion and forgiveness, even though we have let G-d and ourselves down. The discomfort this kind of acknowledgment generates is not bad, it is in fact good, what it feels like to heal.

To tap into this powerful tool we will need to face this feeling head on, and there is no better way to do that than literally looking in the mirror. The tool of “mirror time” is a powerful tool for generating the healing effects of guilt. What this looks like is literally going into a rest room, or any other private  and quiet space with a mirror, and looking in the mirror. Not look in the mirror for two seconds or five seconds but rather for 20-30 seconds. Look deeply into your own eyes. Face yourself, see yourself for who you are. Lean in to the regret. Here, verbal affirmations are very powerful and useful. Look at yourself and say something like this outloud; “You are a good person, and you let yourself down, but you are seeking to be well, you deserve to behave better… etc…” This exercise is simple to carry out though incredibly uncomfortable. Like the discomfort that results from underlying healing and growth in any area of life, this pain becomes more and more tolerable as we grow to understand it. In some ways we can grow to even appreciate this feeling as we recognize the effects of our spirit healing.

It is important that we practice this exercise whenever we have setbacks. It is productive anytime we experience feelings of regret. While utilizing this tool it is important that we be mindful of weeding out maladaptive and dysfunctional shame that crops up. These are recognizable because, as we discussed in this series in the past [1], they are driven by ego, destructive self-pity and false virtue seeking. They are disparaging and humiliating. The process of looking at ourselves squarely and honestly in regret, on the other hand, is affirming and humbling. As we practice this, in its most obvious form, literally looking in the mirror, we find that we can “look at our own image” in a healing and uplifting manner.

The goal and outcome of this practice is that eventually when we encounter guilt in any area we can quickly be mindful to weed out shame, and then experience the productive and healing regret. “I really acted wrong, I wish I hadn’t, I deserve to not have to do that again…” then all that’s left is to admit that wrong to another (if that’s appropriate) and then let it go, be free of it, move on to better things. It is important to note that this letting go and moving on does not constitute a superficial avoidance of addressing underlying problems. Rather, we have already committed to doing the inner work and are really people seeking to grow. Practically speaking though, when we imperfect beings misbehave, the best we can do, in the moment, is face and feel our regret in a productive manner (one that heals our spirit), acknowledge our mistake, to ourselves, to our creator and to those we harm, and move on to better things. As good people seeking to get well, we deserve to be able to harness the power of our imperfections by learning from mistakes and letting the healing power of regret nurture our battered spirit.

Practical Action: Take a few moments to practice the tool of “mirror time”, even if a current regret is not present, see what it might feel like to face yourself in a literal way. To make the experience more real perhaps conjure up some old regret. Practice saying affirmations along the lines of the ones we mentioned above. Lean in to the experience of discomfort and regret keeping in mind it’s a “good” kind of pain, the kind that is leading to growth and personal evolution.

[1] https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/understanding-addiction-and-dependency-part-iii/

About the Author
Menachem Poznanski, LCSW is director of The Living Room, a clubhouse for Jewish young adults in recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction. Menachem is co-author of Stepping out of the Abyss: A Jewish guide to the 12 steps (Mosaica, 2017) and the editor of both Consciously and The Light Revealed, two social media initiatives focused on the messages of Jewish recovery and spirituality. Menachem resides in Cedarhurst, NY with his wife Naomi and their children, Zoe and Tani.
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