“Why Do I Keep Getting Angry?”

ANGER HAS BEEN MY go-to emotion for most of my life. At times my anger is focused inward, upset that I cannot let things go. Too often it’s focused outward. Although I have little patience for incidents of road rage, I seem to cave to it far too often when behind the wheel. Just today, I was driving my mother’s car when I came to an intersection where two other cars had stopped. When the person who had the right of way didn’t go, but just sat there, I began cursing at them. After they went, I tried going and the car to my right (who had just arrived) pulled out in front of me. They saw the anger on my face and flipped me off. I put the driver’s side window down and yelled an un-Christian expletive. Serius XM’s 63 The Message was playing on the stereo. As always happens, I immediately regretted what I said and asked for God’s forgiveness.

I always do. But I keep getting angry behind the wheel.

Many people, including me, believe it’s not spiritual or Christ-like to be angry, and they feel guilty when they are. Anger, however, is a normal human emotion. I recall a night at work last year when I was beginning to boil over the way my boss was treatment me. While still steaming, I took two annoying phone calls. After hanging up, I turned quickly and spilled soda onto the pages of a $321 college text book. That’s it! I picked up the book and threw it across the office floor. My pulse was racing and I felt out of control. Not a very comfortable feeling.

After calming down, I picked up my cell phone and called one of my buddies at church. When I finished telling him what happened, he paused, took a breath, and said, “Well, brother, I hate to tell you this, but you’re afflicted with a little thing I like to call being human.” None of my “yeah, but” comments won him over. He said there were no buts. It is a fact of living in the flesh. Today, when I got home, my mother played a voice mail message from me I did not know I left. I had somehow called my mother’s cell phone while snapping out at that intersection. When she got home, we talked about how things have been bothering me and that I keep getting angry. She played the message. I didn’t want to hear it, but it was necessary. My brother said the family has begun to see me as a Jekyll and Hyde. As you can imagine, that didn’t set to well with me.

When We Let Our Emotions Control Us

We are quite easily ruled by our emotions; especially when we don’t realize it is occurring. Naturally, we all have days when we feel more emotional than others, and there may be a good reason why. It’s hard to simply tell ourselves, “This too shall pass.” However, some of us have a long history of out-of-balance emotional behavior. Many are facing long-standing problems that might go back to childhood or adolescence. But without confrontation of painful issues from the past, it is impossible to move forward with a healthy soul.

forIt is critical that we don’t waste today or put our future in jeopardy because we keep living in the past. If we are constantly looking back with regret, sadness, and resentment, and forward with fear, we will fail to realize that each day is a new beginning. Holding on to our past cost us our future.

If we cling on to the past and keep on using it as an excuse for why our lives are crappy, we can’t move forward. Our future will be very similar to our past. This is known by the colloquial expression emotional baggage. Whenever we bring up past hurts, continually rehearsing our failures and agonizing over things we should have done but didn’t, we’re tying ourselves to our past. We’re risking the chance that our present and future will not be different. In reality, our past isn’t the past. William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” How can it die if we keep reliving it? I read sometime ago that our thoughts affect our emotions, our emotions affect our actions, our actions affect our habits, our habits affect our lifestyle, and our lifestyle becomes our destiny. Please take a minute and read that again.

I’ll wait.

So What About All These Emotions?

Our emotions tend to ebb and flow like the tide at the beach. Joyce Meyer wrote, “It would be so nice if they would just ask permission to come or go, but they don’t.” Obviously, wishing our emotions were different won’t change a thing, so we need to do more than daydream about “better times, better feelings.” I spent my childhood years in a bad relationship with my father. I could not seem to behave, and dad couldn’t seem to control me. He’d ask, “Why do you keep doing these things?” I’d simply respond with the truth: “I don’t know.” He tried everything: lectures from the pastor, loss of privileges, corporal punishment. He even tried to predict where I’d end up if I didn’t change. I’d end up in prison. He was right.

My first mode of escape was writing. I also listened to a lot of music. It seemed the song lyrics of many hits from the 70s were telling my story. One song that stands out is The Logical Song by Supertramp from the Breakfast Over America album. The words still haunt me.

“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical; and all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily, oh joyfully, playfully watching me; but then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, and they showed me a world where I could be so dependable; oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical… there are times when all the world’s asleep, the questions run too deep for such a simple man; won’t you please, please tell me what I’ve learned, I know it sounds absurd, please tell me who I am.”

Another anthem of mine from that era was Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) by Styx. The song title alone said it all. The older I got, the harder it was for me to grasp the root of my melancholy, moody, angry, bitter, life. I remember loving the beach, swimming at the public pool with friends, eating cherries fresh from the cherry tree in my back yard, rescuing lost and injured animals, going camping on weekends, hiking, photography, drinking from the garden hose. Sadly, by the time I hit high school, nothing made sense anymore.

“You see the world through your cynical eyes, you’re a troubled young man I can tell; you’ve got it all in the palm of your hand, but your hand’s wet with sweat and your head needs a rest… how can you be such an angry young man when your future looks quite bright to me; how can there be such a sinister plan that could hide such a lamb, such a caring young man…”

I had accepted Christ at age 13 and was baptized. Our family regularly attended every church service held at Sunbury Bible Church—Wednesday Bible study, Thursday prayer and worship, Sunday school and worship, and Sunday evening evangelism broadcasts live on a local radio station. None of that seemed to matter any more once my father decided we were quitting church cold-turkey. He said he was tired of the hypocrisy and being constantly asked to give more or serve more. I didn’t realize I could attend church by myself. Shortly after we stopped going to church, I fell out of relationship with Jesus Christ. Things grew exponentially worse after that.

An Epidemic of Violence in America?

Anger is a huge problem in our world. Especially over the past decade. Whether it’s a disgruntled employee or bullied high school student unleashing violence through mass murder, or domestic violence, road rage, terrorism, politics, abortion rights, the economy, or war, we are constantly reminded of the global anger that is a part of the society in which we are living. Violence continues to rise while everyone debates the Second Amendment, mental illness, drug abuse, and bullying. We seem obsessed with a quick fix. Confiscate all guns. It is not an easy topic.

Virginia Beach Shooting Pic 01.jpg

A police officer walks near the scene where at least twelve people were killed during a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach city public works building on May 31, 2019.

PsychCentral calls anger and resentment “relationship killers.” Anger hurts. Naturally. When we don’t handle anger, it can overwhelm us. If we’re in denial about our anger, we cannot hope to accept it or properly deal with it. Difficulty with anger is typically due to poor role models growing up. Learning to manage anger should be taught in childhood, but if our parents lacked skills to handle their own anger maturely, they were unable to pass them on.

Unattended anger can quickly turn into a resentment. It is, unfortunately, a formidable foe. Resentment is often defined as anger and indignation experienced as a result of unfair treatment. The problem with anger is that it’s one of the densest forms of communication. It contains tons of information (including emotion), which tends to spill out all at once. Arguments are more apples-to-oranges than apples-to-apples. Everything that’s been building up—even past hurts and offenses you thought you let go of weeks, months, or years ago. It seems likely that individuals who resort to mass murder have been extremely angry for decades. They feel marginalized. As if they don’t really matter. The past builds, rolls down a hill as the proverbial snowball, growing, growing, then…

“And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13, NKJV).”

Consider the Virginia Beach shooting. CNN has confirmed that DeWayne Craddock had resigned earlier in the day before killing 12 coworkers and injuring several others, including one police officer. Mr. Craddock had worked for the city for about 15 years, and had trained as an engineer. He spent time in the Virginia National Guard, and public records did not suggest that he had any history with the criminal justice system other than traffic violations. Initial reports were that he’d just been fired and was disgruntled enough to commit mass murder. A spokesperson for the city said Craddock’s resignation was not connected with any decision that had been made about Craddock’s future position in the government. Begs the question, where did all this anger come from? Unfortunately, we can’t ask Craddock. He was killed in a hail of bullets when he opened fire on police officers.

The Sin of Offense

Our natural reaction in conflict is to blame others and focus on what they did to us. There is a known moral imperative that fairness and justice means “you get what you deserve.” This is a difficult concept to grasp in the middle of being hurt or offended. In this manner, our “feelings” often get in the way of conflict resolution. We feel absolutely justified or indignant about our anger. After all, look what he or she did to me! Often when we are offended we see ourselves as victims and blame those who have hurt us. We justify our anger, resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Sometimes we resent those who remind us of others who have hurt us. Just because we are offended or mistreated, we do not have the right to hold onto offense. 

“Then he said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come'” (Luke 17:1, NKJV).

The Greek word for “offend” in Luke 17:1 comes from the word skandalon. This word initially referred to the part of the trap to which the bait was attached. Accordingly, the word signifies laying a trap in someone’s way. John Bevere (2004) says no matter what the situation, offended people can be divided into two major categories: (1) those who have been treated unjustly, or (2) those who believe they have been treated unjustly. I have spent a great deal of time in the second category. My pride keeps me from admitting my part—my true condition—in the matter. Pride keeps us from dealing with truth. It distorts our vision. We cannot change when we think either everything is fine, or we’ve done nothing wrong to anger someone. Pride can actually harden our hearts despite God having given us a heart of flesh at conversion.

We construct walls when we are hurt to safeguard our hearts and prevent any future wounds. We become quite picky about who we will let in. No one knows how long, but eventually these walls of protection become an emotional prison. The angrier we get, the more likely we will continue to get angry. Whenever we expend energy defending ourselves, isolating, withholding love and good will, we forget about forgiveness, grace, and the love of God. Here’s a great point from Bevere: “If we don’t risk being hurt, we cannot give unconditional love. [Unfortunately], unconditional love gives others the right to hurt us.” For me, he means love does not seek its own. He is suggesting that if we wallow in our hurts and offenses, we become increasingly self-seeking and self-contained. When we filter everything through past hurts, rejections, and offenses, we find it impossible to believe God.

So Now What?

When we are hurt or offended and in unforgiveness—and when we refuse to repent of this sin—we have not arrived at the truth. We are deceived, and our hypocrisy confuses those we could otherwise lead to Christ. This is unfortunately true for me more times than I’d like to admit, but we’re only as sick as our secrets. My mantra was, “If it weren’t for my father, I would have had a normal life.” For too long I hung on to the idea that I can’t forgive others, and I am globally angry, because that’s what dad taught me. To the degree that this is even somewhat true, at some point it becomes irrelevant. It’s sort of like knowing what is causing us to suffer a physical ailment but not stopping the activity causing us to be sick.

If we stay free from offense, we are better able to stay in God’s will. When offended, we are taken hostage by Satan to fulfill his own purpose and will. Not God’s and not ours. First Corinthians 13 (often called the “Love Chapter”) defines unconditional (Greek, agape) love. One of my favorite interpretations of this critical biblical principle is described in Eugene Peterson’s (2006) The Message//Remix. He writes, “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what is doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end” [italics mine].

“This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16).

Reaching this seemingly lofty and elusive goal cannot be accomplished on our power alone. We are simply incapable of unconditional love and acceptance. It takes spiritual growth and a reliance on the Holy Spirit to lead us down the paths we are to take as Christians who have been redeemed from the power and the wages of sin. We can, however, start by making an effort to stay free from offense. It’s a lot like working out at the gym. When we regularly exercise our forgiveness and work toward God’s ideal for love (1 Corinthians 13), we slowly get better at it. We drastically increase the odds that we will become less and less offended and instead begin to let go and forgive.

I will be praying that you are able to break the bondage of hurt, offense, anger, resentment, and unforgiveness. I would ask that you pray for me as well. Now, let’s go forth in grace and kindness. May we forgive ourselves and see ourselves as God sees us. This is critical if we are ever to curb our anger and express our love and acceptance of others and our situation.

References

Bevere, J. (2004). The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House.

Peterson, E. The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Healing Emotional Wounds From Your Past

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28, NASB)

Dan and Cindy were a fine, young Christian couple preparing for ministry on the mission field. Then tragedy struck. Cindy was attacked and raped by a stranger in the parking lot one night after work. The police were unable to find her attacker, and Cindy had a hard time bringing any closure to the nightmare. The trauma was so severe that Dan and Cindy moved out of the city. As hard as she tried to get back to normal life, Cindy couldn’t shake the horrible memories and feelings from her experience. She was trapped by her trauma.

One of the most vital things we can learn regarding our Christian life is how to handle the trials that will inevitably come our way. Many Christians naively expect a life of joy once they have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. When hit with adversity, they begin to doubt the love of God. Why me? I love the Lord. I go to church. New believers, especially those who have emerged from a life of failure, are looking for success in their new life, not suffering.

Romans 8:28 is one of the most familiar verses on this subject. The NASB translation states, “God causes all things to work together for good.” Let’s not come away thinking this verse says God causes the very thing itself in order to bring about good in the life of the believer. It is saying, rather, that things don’t just happen to work out for good on their own. God providentially works all things together for good for His people according to His purpose. But while Romans 8:28 is a source of great comfort when it is properly understood, it is often misunderstood and misapplied.

BAD THINGS DO HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE

Your story may not be as severe as Cindy’s, but all of us have hurtful, traumatic experiences in our past that have scarred us emotionally. You may have grown up with a physically, emotionally or sexually abusive parent. You may have been severely frightened as a child. Maybe you have suffered through a painful relationship in the past: a broken friendship, the untimely death of a loved one, a divorce. Any number of traumatic events in your past can leave you holding a lot of emotional baggage. Those experiences are buried in our memories and available for instant recall when we least expect it.

The cycle of emotions goes like this: (1) previous life history determines the intensity of primary emotions you experience when (2) a present event triggers the memory of your past trauma, then (3) you perform a mental evaluation in order to manage your present emotional response, attempting to apply reason, resulting (4) in a secondary emotional response, typically far less intense than your primary emotional reaction. Of course, many of these primary emotions lie dormant within you and have little effect on your life until something triggers them. Perhaps you’ve seen this happen when a seemingly innocuous conversation you are having with someone sends him or her storming out of the room. What set him off? you wonder. You unwittingly touched a nerve.

The problem is, you cannot isolate yourself completely from everything that may set off an emotional response. You are bound to see something on TV, or hear something in a conversation, that will bring to mind your unpleasant experience. Something in your past is unresolved, and therefore it still has a hold on you. I once heard it said that when we fail to deal with past events that have caused emotional baggage, we tend to bring the emotions of that past trauma into our current relationships. When this happens, our decisions are not so much undertaken by us as they are driven by the emotions of the prior event.

LEARNING TO RESOLVE PRIMARY EMOTIONS

You have no control over a primary emotion when it is triggered in the present, because it is rooted in the past. Therefore, it doesn’t do any good to feel guilty about something you can’t control. You can, however, stabilize the primary emotion by evaluating it in light of present circumstances. For example, suppose you meet a man named Bill. He looks hauntingly like the Bill who used to beat you up as a child. Although he is not the same person, your primary emotion will be triggered. So you quickly tell yourself, “This is not the same Bill; give him the benefit of the doubt.” This mental evaluation produces a secondary emotion that is a combination of the past and the present.

You have done this thousands of times, and you have also helped others do the same. When people fly off the handle, you try to help them cool down by talking to them. You are helping them gain control of themselves by making them think; by putting the present situation into perspective. Notice how this works the next time you are watching a football game and tempers explode on the field. On player grabs an enraged teammate and says, “Listen, meathead, you’re going to cost us a 15-yard penalty and maybe the game if you don’t simmer down!”

Some Christians assert that the past doesn’t have any effect on them because they are new creations in Christ. I would have to disagree, and here’s why. Either they are extremely fortunate to have a conflict-free past, or they are living in denial. Those who have had major past traumas and have learned how to resolve them in Christ know how devastating past experiences can be. Many Christians have brought their major traumatic experiences to counseling sessions. Some have been abused to such an extent that they have no conscious memory of their experiences. Others constantly avoid anything that will stimulate those painful memories. Most don’t know how to resolve those past experiences, so they have developed myriad defense mechanisms to cope. Some live in denial. Others rationalize their problems, or try to suppress the pain by an excess of food, sex, drugs and alcohol, or other vices.

A major role of psychotherapy is to determine the root of primary emotions. Sometimes psychotherapists resort to hypnosis or pharmacotherapy to get at the sources of their clients’ problems. I worked for eighteen months in a dissociative disorders unit at a psychiatric hospital outside of Philadelphia, PA. Dissociative disorders involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, awareness, identity or perception. People with dissociative disorders use dissociation, a defense mechanism, pathologically and involuntarily. Dissociative disorders are thought to be primarily caused by previous severe psychological trauma. Patients suffering from possible multiple personality disorder are sometimes treated with sodium amytal interviews in order to assess and manage catatonia, hysterical stupor, and unexplained muteness, as well as in distinguishing between depressive, schizophrenic, and organic stuporous states. My clinical experience at that psychiatric facility involved treating women allegedly suffering from multiple personality disorder, which was thought to be caused by severe, long-term physical or psychological trauma during childhood and early adolescence.

SEE YOUR PAST IN LIGHT OF WHO YOU ARE IN CHRIST

I have come to believe that the answer for repressed memories is found in Psalm 139:23-24, which states, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (NIV)

How does God intend you to resolve your past experiences? In two ways. First, understand that you are no longer a product of your past. You are a new creation in Christ: a product of Christ’s work on the cross. You have the privilege of evaluating your past experience in light of who you are today, as opposed to who you were then. The intensity of the primary emotion was initially established by how you perceived the event at the time it happened. People are not in bondage to past traumas so much as they are in bondage to the lies they believed about themselves, God, and how to live as a result of the trauma. That is why truth sets you free.

As a Christian, you are literally a new creature in Christ Jesus. Old things, including the traumas of your past, passed away. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The old you in Adam is gone; the new you in Christ is here to stay. We have all been victimized, lo, even traumatized, but whether we remain victims is up to us. An old-timer I knew in Alcoholics Anonymous used to share, “Victims drink!” Those primary emotions are rooted in the lies we believed in the past. Now we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (See Romans 12:2) The flesh patterns are still imbedded in our minds when we become new creations in Christ, but we can crucify the flesh and choose to walk by the Spirit. (See Galatians 5:22-25)

Now that you are in Christ, you can look at past events from the perspective of who you are today. You may be struggling with the question, “Where was God when all this was happening to me?” The omnipresent God was there, and He sent His own Son to redeem you from your past. The truth is, He is in your life right now desiring to release you from your past. That is the Gospel: the “Good News” that Christ Jesus came to set the captives free. Perceiving past traumatic events from the vantage point of your new identity in Christ is what starts the process of healing those damaged or toxic emotions.

FORGIVE THOSE WHO HAVE HURT YOU

The next step in resolving past conflicts is to forgive those who have offended you.  You have to break free from the typical mindset of, “Why should I forgive him? You don’t seem to understand how bad he hurt me!” The first reason is that forgiveness is required by God. As soon as Jesus spoke the “amen” to his model prayer – which included a petition for God’s forgiveness – He commented, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (See Matthew 18:14-15) We must base our relationship with others on the same criteria on which God bases His relationship with us: love, acceptance, and forgiveness. (See Matthew 18:21-35)

The second reason is because forgiveness is necessary to avoid entrapment by Satan. Unforgiveness is the number one snare Satan uses to gain entrance to our lives. I read a terrific book on this subject by John Bevere (2004) called The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. In his preface, Bevere says, “The issue of offense – the very core of The Bait of Satan – is often the most difficult obstacle an individual must face and overcome.” Bevere tells us the Greek word for “offend” used by Jesus in Luke 17:1 is skandalon, which originally referred to the part of an animal trap to which the bait was attached for luring the animal. In similar fashion regarding the sin of offense, the word signifies laying a trap in someone’s way! Paul encourages us to forgive “in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (See 2 Corinthians 2:11)

The third reason is simple: forgiveness is required of all believers who desire to be like Christ. Paul wrote, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, NIV)

WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?

Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgetting may be a beneficial long-term byproduct of forgiving, but it is never a means to forgiveness. When God says He will remember our sins no more (See Hebrews 10:17), He is not saying, “I will forget them.” God is omniscient; He cannot forget. Rather, He is saying He will never use our past against us. He will remove it from us as far as the east is from the west. (See Psalm 103:12) Moreover, forgiveness does not involve tolerance for sin. It is proper to forgive someone’s past sins, but we must take a stand against future sin.

Forgiveness does not seek revenge or demand repayment for offenses suffered. A friend of mine is notorious for saying, “I’m all about paybacks!” I told him he must not seek retribution no matter what the offense. He said, “You mean I’m just supposed to let them off the hook?” I might have gotten through to him the last time we spoke. I said, “Yes, you let them off your hook realizing that God does not let them off His hook.” We may feel like exacting justice, but we are not an impartial judge. God is the just judge who will make everything right in the end. “‘Vengeance is Mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (See Romans 12:19)

Forgiveness means resolving to live with the consequences of another person’s offense. In reality, we have to live with the consequences whether we forgive the offending person or not. Actually, we are all living with the consequences of Adam’s sin. I can’t count the number of people – believers and non-believers alike – who don’t think that this is fair. Some have even gone as far as to insist they would have obeyed God and not eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Obviously, we’ll never know, will we? So our only real choice is simple: either live with the consequences of the Fall in the bondage of bitterness and offense, or in the freedom of forgiveness.

 

Struggling With Regret

None of us can look back when we’re at the end of our life and say, “I was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be.” Everyone has regrets. It’s easy in hindsight to see the road signs we missed. The forks in the road we could’ve taken. To think about all the bad decisions we made.

Regret is a negative cognitive and emotional state that involves blaming ourselves for a bad outcome, feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been, or wishing we could undo a previous choice we made. For young people, regret, although painful to experience, can be a helpful emotion. The pain of regret can result in refocusing and taking corrective action or pursuing a new path. However, the less opportunity we have to change the situation, the more likely it is that regret can turn into rumination and chronic stress that can damage the mind and body.

Researcher Neal Roese of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University is a leader in the field of regret research. His studies of younger people have shown that regret was rated more favorably than unfavorably, primarily because of its informational value in motivating corrective action. Interestingly, regret was rated highest of a list of negative emotions in making sense of the world, avoiding future negative behaviors, gaining insight, achieving social harmony, and improving your ability to approach desired opportunities.

Regret can have damaging effects on mind and body when it turns into fruitless rumination and self-blame that keeps you from re-engaging with life. This pattern of repetitive, negative, self-focused ruminative thinking is characteristic of depression. Other research, reported in the AARP Newsletter, indicates that regret can result in chronic stress, which can negatively affect hormonal and immune system functioning. Regret impedes the ability to recover from stressful life events by extending their emotional reach for months or years.

What can you do to cope with regret? First of all, it is important to harness the functional aspects of regret. Regret, like all emotions, has a function for survival. It is our brain’s way of telling us to take another look at our choices. It’s a signal that our actions may be leading to negative consequences. Regret is a major reason why addicts get into recovery.

If you get stuck blaming yourself and regretting past actions, it can lead to depression and damage your self-esteem. You have to find a way to forgive yourself and let it go. Try thinking about what you would say to a friend in the same situation to make them feel better. Most people have an easier time forgiving others than forgiving themselves. Try thinking about life as a journey. Everybody makes mistakes, and these can be opportunities to learn important lessons about yourself, your ways of reacting, your values, your vulnerabilities and your triggers.

When you find yourself focusing on regret, shape your thoughts by exploring the silver lining in whatever you did. Ask yourself what lessons you learned. Figure out how you gained wisdom out of a particular situation. In the case of an unhappy marriage, for example, celebrate the children that came from it. That doesn’t change anything about the marriage, but it makes it easier to live with the situation.

Regret happens when you don’t forgive yourself. When your mistake feels final, like going too fast on a highway and then getting a speeding ticket. It is too easy to feel regret. However, forgiveness is a powerful catalyst. Forgiveness is one of the most loving actions you can take for yourself. While regret holds you back in the past, forgiveness helps you move forward. Tell yourself that was part of who you were then. The mistake can help you grow into a better person. Forgive yourself and resolve to move forward. Send negative feelings about your actions into the past where the action occurred. They don’t do you any good now.

Let go of the past and build a better future.