Everyone’s experienced regret. It’s an emotion that can linger, especially for people with OCD who are prone to ruminating, because the more you think about whatever it was that you regret, the bigger the regret seems to become.
The hypocrisy of regret
But regret has a few secrets it’s keeping from you that give it momentum, and the first one is rather sneaky, especially if you have OCD.
For OCD, everything’s a future catastrophe: you’re going to get a fatal illness or molest your child or be anxious forever, etc, etc, etc or these horrible things might already have happened and your future is forever wrecked. OCD never posits that you’re going to die of old age when you’re 105 or give your child an amazing upbringing or learn to live with and even forget about your anxiety.
Yet, regret is based on the thought that had you made a different decision, things would have been amazing! How hypocritical is that?
Things don’t often go as planned
Say you’re regretting that you didn’t marry someone, and you think about how wonderful your life would have been if you’d married him/her. But that regret is based on thinking that everything would have gone exactly as planned. And while it’s unlikely that things would be quite as catastrophic as OCD likes to predict, life rarely goes off without a hitch. Perhaps if you’d married that person, you would have both realized that you weren’t a good match and ended up divorced. Perhaps you would have had to move for your partner’s job and missed a job opportunity of your own. Or perhaps your partner would have treated you differently after you’d tied the knot, and you would have ended up unhappy.
The point is that when we regret something, we are often comparing the way things are now with an imagined fantasy of how things could have been if everything had gone according to plan.
Don’t compare apples to oranges!
Don’t let your mind play this kind of game with you. Next time you’re regretting a past decision, be self-compassionate and recognize your brain is comparing apples to oranges, an unfair comparison!
By the way, it’s common to have regrets about decisions you’ve made in the past that were influenced by your OCD. I spell out a bunch of these from my own life on page 93 of Is Fred in the Refrigerator? Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life, so you’re not alone. Check out Part 2 of this blog post about the other secret regret is keeping related to this topic, and how self-compassion can help set you free.
Learn more about taming OCD
Sign up for my Shoulders Back! newsletter to receive OCD-taming tips & resources, including notifications of new blog posts, delivered every month to your inbox.
My blog posts are not a replacement for therapy, and I encourage all readers who have obsessive compulsive disorder to find a competent ERP therapist. See the IOCDF treatment provider database for a provider near you. And never give up hope, because you can tame OCD and reclaim your life!
(c) Can Stock Photo / Elnur