Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
“I never thought this would happen to me.”
“I didn’t think life would turn out this way.”
“If only I hadn’t…”
These are words of disappointment and regret, and I don’t know any human being who doesn’t use those words from time to time. Life happens, and not always the way we had planned or hoped it would.
Disappointment and regret are a natural reaction to diabetes
Nobody knows this better than someone who is living with a chronic condition. A chronic condition introduces change, much of it unwelcome. Along with challenges come limitations that can affect daily activities, relationships, finances, and more.
A chronic condition can bring up all kinds of thoughts and feelings about what you thought your life would be like and how other people are living their lives compared to how you are living yours. At some point, you may have asked yourself the “Why me?” or “Why didn’t I?” questions.
Disappointment is the perception you didn’t get what you wanted or hoped for and wishing your life had turned out differently. Like a life without the chronic condition that you seem to have been saddled with.
Regret is wishing you had, or hadn’t, done something in your past or that you had made different choices. Maybe even choices that might have helped you avoid your condition.
Disappointment can leave you feeling like your life is out of control, that things happen to you, and that you are powerless. Regret, on the other hand, is giving yourself power, but also blaming yourself.
Either way, disappointment and regret leave you wishing your life was anything but what it is. This goes hand in hand with feelings like anger, sadness, and guilt.
So, the best way to say it is that disappointment and regret are stops along the road when you are living with a chronic condition, but not places where you want—or have—to stay for very long. And certainly not places to put down roots.
7 tips for beating disappointment and regret
Here’s what to do when you feel disappointment and regret closing in on you:
Let yourself feel how you feel. When phrases like “if only…” and “I never thought…” are creeping into your thoughts and your speech, don’t judge yourself for not having the “right” attitude or hold it all in and hope the disappointment or regret will go away on its own. Talk with someone you trust, who can listen without judging you or trying to “fix” you. Or post a discussion online and get some feedback. Don’t go through this alone.
Don’t avoid the “Why me” question. Disappointment and regret often lead to the ultimate question: “Why me?” That can be a scary question because it brings up painful feelings. Most likely, you will find that the answer is that there isn’t an answer, so why keep asking, right? Well, because it’s only human to question why and to take a look at your life and what living with a chronic condition means, now and for the future. In that way, asking, “Why me?” is a milestone along the road to acceptance.
Recognize the blame game for what it is. Disappointment lays the blame on something outside of yourself, like the unfairness of life. Regret lays the blame smack dab on your own doorstep. Either way, blaming is a loser because you end up spinning the same story over and over, trying to explain the unexplainable. Blaming life or blaming yourself. Stuck. In the meantime, life is happening all around you.
Take a look at what acceptance means to you. When I am having a conversation about disappointment and regret with my clients, the idea of accepting their diagnosis often leads to a question: “Why shouldn’t I feel this way? Am I supposed to pretend that it’s okay that this got handed to me?” Think of acceptance as: “Here I am. Now what can I do?” This is kind of like going with the flow instead of struggling against the tide. Decide to focus on what’s possible in your life, beginning with what you can do right now to have a better day. Accepting your diagnosis doesn’t mean you are giving in or giving up. You’re a fighter but that doesn’t mean you should be swinging your fists in every direction. Pick your battles, and conserve your energy for what’s most important in your life.
Start each day with gratitude. One of the best antidotes to the negativity caused by disappointment and regret is to remind yourself of what you’re grateful for. Focusing on positives can help you “rewire” your brain to look at the big picture. Replace the “should haves” and “shouldn’t haves” with what’s good, what makes you happy, who’s there for you, and what’s possible.
Be compassionate toward yourself. Everybody experiences their own suffering, in one way or another. Nobody gets to have it all. Give yourself some credit for having a lot of challenges in your life. For doing the best you can. For facing life on life’s terms. In other words, give yourself a break and show yourself some patience.
See what you can learn from the past. Want to make productive use of your regrets? Use them to guide how you live your life in the future. Go ahead and ask yourself what you wish you did or didn’t do, identify the positive actions that you wish you had chosen more often, and start taking positive action. Start with deciding to take the best possible care of yourself and to be a support for the important people in your life. Make the most of every moment. Experience can be a good teacher.
Disappointment? Regret? Don’t ignore them. Listen to what they have to say, but don’t let them take up all your time. You’ve got too much going on in your life!