Tell me about radical acceptance/constructive living?
November 4, 2014 1:10 AM   Subscribe

Made a few bad decisions -- how do I move forward?

Not sure how many details to provide, but I've made a few career/life choices that I now regret. Some were risks, and they haven't paid off. I just wasn't really thinking through the consequences of other decisions (one of which I made when I was eight months pregnant -- not a good idea!) I'm feeling my age (mid-thirties). I can't go back, but I'm having trouble moving forward. I stew over "what I should have done" all the time, and beat myself up for it. Really, I'm frozen with regret.

When I've asked questions about this before, I've gotten the advice to practice radical acceptance or constructive living. I've read a bit about these, but am still struggling with implementation. How exactly do you use these techniques?

I know I should probably be seeing a therapist, but CBT drives me crazy -- I can't dispute my thoughts like that all the time, I go mad. Someone else suggested ACT. Any suggestions?

(Also, I don't think it's postpartum depression, though I have been evaluated for that. I really do think I just made some bummer decisions, none of which have to do with my lovely child, though I think my kid deserves a happier parent.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I hate to say this but maybe CBT based couceling is the ticket. It seems annoying at first but it becomes second nature. Brushing your teeth seems ridiculous as a kid but a totally routine easy thing at some point. A few annoying weeks may help for a lifetime. Especially now. But just talking it out with a therapist may help you let go of some regret.
posted by Kalmya at 2:57 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Whatever choices you made in the past you are here now with a wonderful child and a long life ahead of you. You can't go back and change the past, but you can make a better future. You're not too old to change careers, to go back to school, to find a new partner. Trust me, I'm old enough to be your mother, been there, done all of that.

When I was younger and had made some choices I regretted a friend once told something like this: "If you had made better choices you wouldn't have the kids you have, the friends you have. Don't waste your energy regretting the past. Move forward."
posted by mareli at 3:50 AM on November 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

I have struggled mightily with regret. A lot of times my focus on past mistakes is a symptom of creeping depression. But as a human, I know in general that I have to make peace with myself and my mistakes in life. It has been a process, but I started to really take Buddhist teachings, particularly "compassion for self" and letting go of attachments, to heart. I started to also take the idea of loving myself seriously, where I used to scoff at it before.

Dwelling on past mistakes, for me, usually involves a fair amount of being terrible to myself. When those moments come, I tell myself that I love myself unconditionally. When my thoughts try to counter with, "unconditionally? even THAT thing?" I just keep thinking, "I love myself unconditionally." Compassion for yourself comes into play here. I also think about letting go of my attachment to the past. The past is not even THERE, it's just ideas and memory. There is only right now, and you are wasting it on some phantom idea of an unchangeable past. Accept that it is over, stop attaching yourself to what could have been. It's just a distraction from the very real, alive, active now.

As an aside, I feel the same way about CBT. It doesn't work for everyone and it's not the end-all be-all of therapy. Therapy will likely be helpful as I really think this kind of rehashing of past-mistakes tends to signal depression or anxiety or some other kind of underlying process. See if you can find Pema Chondron's book "Comfortable with Uncertainty." It might be a help to you.
posted by Katine at 5:42 AM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

ACT was great for me - it was more of a trauma based antipathy towards my past but a reasonably similar kind of thing as far as 'this shit won't change so what can you do now' active treatment. So we worked more on what the concrete fallout of my past is for my present and what I feel, and what I do. I can't change my past and I can't change other people, but I can change what I do now in order to be healthier and more secure.

So, for example, my regrets like 'I wish I'd never taken that job' are sorted into elements where I can do something (think before I act, act mindfully, be honest about your needs) and elements that I can't (it was a bad choice, what if X). Then the elements I can act on are prioritised over the ones I can't. When I start worrying about the bad choice I think mindfully about why - too hasty, based in fear, lack of support - and what I can do now. Usually that is being kind to myself, being mindful of why I'm ruminating, and being honest.

That said, this kind of rampant wheels blocked anxiety is absolutely a form of PPD, and of other anxiety disorders. It's a kind of obsessive thinking, and it's a control issue for me as well. Particularly your last comment though - happiness is a bit of a pipe dream I think, and something that is often used as a stick with which society can beat mothers. It's not enough to do a good job - you need a damn smile too? It's also a way that PPD (depressive or anxious) can undermine your perception of yourself. Your son doesn't 'deserve a happier mother' - he has you, you are his mother, and you are loved. Faults and all, happy or unhappy, you are worthy of love and I promise, he loves you even when you cry, when you're unhappy, no matter what. You deserve to be happy, for your own sake, and to not be tormented by things you cannot change.

(brought to you by my five year old snuggling into me while we read and saying, out of the blue, 'sometimes you're sad mummy, that's okay' and turning back to her book)
posted by geek anachronism at 5:45 AM on November 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

You can learn more about radical self acceptance at
They have a ton of downloadable audios and books on the topic.
Also you could check out some 12 step literature. The idea of making a moral inventory is not just listing all your bad choices but really about having compassion on and understanding why those choices happened.
And seconding geek anachronism -Kids need a good enough mom, not a perfect mom.
posted by SyraCarol at 6:25 AM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sometimes I just meditate on the fact that someone out there, probably not too far away, faced similar choices to myself, and also botched things, possibly/ probably even more. Pobody's Nerfect and all that, all we can do is our best at each passing moment.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:51 AM on November 4, 2014

Fellow mid-thirties woman here. I'm sorry you're having a tough time right now.

Here's the thing I've found. Radical Acceptance is hard. Not beating yourself up about mistakes or regrets is hard. Letting go is hard. Often it seems like we want to punish ourselves about the past, as if that's going to change the reality of the present. So this is a process that's going to take work and time. You can do it.

I'm not sure what you've read so far, but I'd suggest Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodren. I've found the Pema Chodren book to be particularly helpful. There are therapists trained in mindfulness meditation (what these books are all about) who could help, too.

But I think what you're asking is, "what can I do right now so I'm not overwhelmed?" This is what I did. I started living my life. The life I had right now, right in this moment. Not the one I wanted. I started trying to appreciate the things I did have, not the things I didn't. When the thoughts come up "oh I shouldn't have made this choice, everything is falling apart, etc.," I would recognize this as what it is: just thoughts. And thoughts that are not necessarily true (and sure aren't helpful, because you'll never know if the choice you made was "right" or "wrong." I'd say to myself "Thinking." Just one word. And it would bring my focus back to the present, instead of the past. Sometimes I say "Thinking" to myself a dozen times a day. But it usually works.

I hope you can find some peace.
posted by purple24 at 11:40 AM on November 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

I don't think there is any one way to get there. For me, being able to really, deeply accept something crappy and move on requires me to understand it in some thorough way that helps me see that all things are a two edged sword and this is the other side of this thing or here is the silver lining you really wanted but are failing to recognize or something like that. I have done therapy, done a lot of journaling, found good sounding boards, etc. I just cannot move on unless I can wrap my brain around some sense of "why" did this happen, what my options are and so on.

I simply can't say "meh, moving on" for anything that I feel really negatively impacted my life -- though I sometimes can for relatively small things that might be a bigger deal for other people. I kind of shrugged when a tree fell on my car on a windy day and said "welp, I guess we are selling this car and keeping the other one instead of vice versa" and when someone stole our towels from an apartment Laundromat, I assumed some kids took our load by mistake and I also kind of shrugged and didn't worry about it further. But a lot of things require me to really hash it out pretty thoroughly and wrap my brain around it in a way that makes sense for me personally so I can a) put it in perspective and b) figure out where to go from here/what this means for the big picture of my life.

I think I have done a pretty good job of accepting some things that are genuinely hard to accept while feeling like my life is not just totally ruined by it for all eternity. But I can do so because I think I have thoroughly assessed things and my view that it hasn't simply ruined my life is something I feel is an objective fact and not just polly-anna-ish attitude.
posted by Michele in California at 1:21 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Any of David K. Reynolds books will introduce you to Constructive Living. A good one to start with might be Playing Ball on Running Water.
posted by wittgenstein at 3:14 PM on November 4, 2014

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