Dealing With Regrets Caused By Your Poor People Skills
A lot of people who've had problems with shyness or social awkwardness have regrets about mistakes they've made in the past because of those issues. Maybe they're regretful a lot of each day, or it might be that they're not as bad as they used to be, but every so often they have these moments where they dwell on something they did wrong five years ago and think, "If only I had done X instead..." They may have elaborate daydreams where they imagine how much better things would be if they could magically start their life over at age ten, knowing everything they know now.
Here are some common regrets:
- "Everyone had so much fun in high school and college. I wasted those years."
- "I shouldn't have lost touch with that friend."
- "I should have stood up to that bully in middle school."
- "I shouldn't have been so socially clueless all those times."
- "I should have joined more clubs in high school."
- "I wish I had gotten more into sports as a kid, instead of being the guy who was always picked last in gym class."
- "I shouldn't have wimped out of that situation."
- "I wish I spent my time and money better in high school, instead of just playing RPGs."
- "I should have been friends with those people I thought weren't my style, instead of hanging out by myself all the time instead."
- "I wish I was more social as a kid."
- "If only I did such-and-such earlier."
- "I should have learned (an instrument/a sport/a language/how to drive/etc.) when I was younger. My life would be so much simpler now if I had that skill."
- "If only I hadn't let such-and-such a chance pass me by."
- Anything dating related, e.g., "I should have talked to that person", "I should have said yes when that person asked me out", "I should have made a move on that person when I had a chance", etc.
It's hard not to let this stuff get to you sometimes. Especially if you're still not where you want to be socially, it's pretty easy to get caught up in all the 'what if's'. Here are my thoughts on dealing with your regrets:
You're never going to totally get over all your regrets
Everyone has made mistakes in their life. Once they've happened you can't undo them, and you can always wonder what may have been if you had done things differently. It's just human nature to sometimes regret past choices you've made. I think you can experience your regrets less often and not let them bum you out as much, but it's probably a little too optimistic to hope you can totally eliminate them. So the best I can do in this article is offer a few points that may help take the edge off, not cure anything outright.
You tend to be more regretful when your life currently isn't going so well
I've noticed when people are feeling satisfied with their lives they don't really dwell on their regrets. It sounds a little trite, but they're too busy enjoying the present to worry about things they did wrong seven years ago. But I find as soon as someone starts to feel a little down, even temporarily because they've had a bad day at work or a squabble with their mom, then their mind is quicker to go into 'Regret Mode'. And of course, when a person's life generally isn't where they want it to be, they'll be regretful quite often.
It's almost as if when you're feeling unsatisfied, your mind starts scanning for solutions to your problem and lousy mood. But rather than cook up some comprehensive five-step plan about how to improve things going forward, it goes back in time and fixates on, "If only I had done this in freshman year, my life would be great, and I wouldn't be feeling bummed out at the moment." Where I'm getting at with this is if you can get your current life into a decent state, your regrets will diminish. I know, much easier said than done, but at least there is some promise of relief in the future.
You can reduce your regrets by improving in the areas you're regretful about
This is looking at the same idea of the previous point in a different way. I just said that making your life better in a general, overall sense may reduce your regrets. In my experience you can also lessen your regrets by having some present success in the areas you're ruminating about. I think you tend to have regrets in areas you care about doing well in, but feel you're not currently experiencing the level of success you want. On the other hand, if you mess up in some area that's not important to you at all, then you're probably not going to lose sleep over it a decade later (e.g., screwing up at some monotonous part-time job that you had one summer).
If you're having regrets about your past shyness, they may go away if you can scale back your shyness in the present (again: one thing to say it, another to do it). The past errors can't be undone, but if you can be happy in that area now, your mind may be able to let your previous mistakes rest in peace. Or maybe you focus on a past failure to stand up for yourself because you still feel like you can't assert yourself. Maybe if you hit the gym and took some boxing classes you'd feel more powerful, and would no longer have a need to dwell on that episode from grade school where a classmate intimidated you.
You may be having regrets because of something you always wanted to do but haven't done yet. Your mind is going to, "You had a chance back then and you blew it." If possible, try to do that thing, and your thoughts may be put at ease. Of course some opportunities aren't practical to do too long after you've missed out on them the first time.
Don't assume your life would be so much better if you had only done certain things differently
When you have thoughts of the, "I should have done ________" variety, a lot of the regret comes from thinking that if you had just done that thing the outcome would have been so perfect and wonderful. Sometimes you have the supposed outcome totally mapped out in your head. At other times you just assume things would turn out well without really going into details as to why it would:
- "If only I had done more with my life in high school... I would have become super popular, had a magical time like out of some movie, and gone on to have an awesome life college."
- "If I had kept in touch with my friends... I'd have a colorful, fulfilling social life to this day."
- "If only I had stood up to that bully... I would have easily, stylishly, and satisfyingly pummeled him, while everyone looked on and thought I was a ninja bad ass."
- "If only I had talked to that person... we would have fallen in love and had a blissful romantic affair."
Who's to say the outcome would have been so positive though? It could have been more mundane and anti-climatic:
- "If I had only done more with my life in high school... I'd have a little more fun, but ultimately come away feeling the same way about the whole experience as I do now. I'd have a pretty fun time at college, but nothing spectacular."
- "If I kept in touch with my friends... we'd hang out for another six months, before we naturally drifted apart anyway."
- "If only I had stood up to that bully... I would have nervously stared him down for a minute before the teachers came and broke us up. I wouldn't get blatantly picked on anymore after that, but people at school would still generally ignore me and think I was strange."
- "If only I had talked to that person... we would chat awkwardly for a minute before I realized we weren't each other's type."
If you catch yourself thinking back to some pivotal moment where you wanted to have done things differently, just remind yourself there's no guarantee the outcome would have been a best-case scenario. It's just easier to fill in the blank that way because you'll never know what would have really happened. There are probably times in your life where you did take a chance, or stood up for yourself, or kept in touch with some friends, or whatever. Likely it sometimes worked out great, but most of the time the results were pretty forgettable.
Don't have regrets for unrealistic reasons
Shy, insecure people can be too hard on themselves in the present. They can beat themselves up for not being socially perfect and knowing the exact right thing to do in a situation; "If only I done so-and-so... and been incredibly smooth and charismatic, things would have turned out so well!!!!" It's not realistic to feel down about something because you didn't live up to unattainable standards in the past.
Everyone has regrets
This point is a little cheesy in that it's saying, "There there, don't feel bad", but is somewhat short on substance. Like I said earlier, we all have things we regret. Sometimes when we're feeling regretful we almost believe we're the only one who's ever screwed up in life. Of course, we all have things we wished we had done differently. No one gets everything right all the time. Everyone knows everything in hindsight, but at the time we all have to be younger and more clueless. It can make us feel a little better to realize this, that you're not some wretched disaster who's all alone in having an imperfect past. Just you and every single other person.
Here's a related article about what you can do when your regrets specifically cause you to painfully wince at what you did: