Regret and Her Horrible Twin, Guilt
This is a parable about a hidden force that may be keeping you stuck.
The twin sisters Regret and Guilt look a lot alike but they are very different.
When Regret makes a mistake she cries, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that!” or “Why did I do that?” or “I’m never doing that again!”
But when Guilt makes a mistake she yells, “You idiot, you blew it again!” or “You are such a loser—what’s the matter with you?” or “You might as well give up; you’re never going to get it right.”
Regret makes mistakes all the time. She figures that everybody does, especially when they’re learning something new. Regret doesn’t even really seem to mind making mistakes because she always learns something that helps her do things a little differently the next time. She even laughs at herself and shares her mistakes with others so they’ll learn too. She doesn’t care that other people sometimes do things better—but she wants to be the best she can be so she never gives up trying.
Of course, Guilt makes mistakes too but she blames herself because she believes she should know better. Instead of helping her learn, her mistakes just prove that she is a bad person and that something is wrong with her. She is often angry with herself and sometimes other people. Secretly, she feels unloved and unworthy. With every mistake, she resolves to do things perfectly the next time to prove to everyone else that she is good enough.
One day, Regret and Guilt agreed that it was time to make some lifestyle changes. Regret regretted that her energy level was low and she wasn’t able to do all of the things she wanted. Guilt felt bad too—guilty that she was “too fat and lazy.”
Regret decided that she would make small changes to the way she ate. She started by paying more attention to her hunger and fullness cues. It sounded simple enough but it wasn’t as easy as she thought, especially when someone brought donuts to the office. After two days of eating donuts mid-morning, she realized she needed to make a plan. She gave herself extra time in the morning to have breakfast and pack lunch. She also made a list of other things she could do besides eat when the donuts were calling her. She continually tweaked her plan to figure out what worked the best and congratulated herself on her small successes.
Guilt liked the idea of using hunger and fullness too—but one day she had already eaten most of her lunch at her desk when her boss showed up with cake to celebrate Secretary’s Day. She had a piece even though she wasn’t hungry. Within a few minutes she was berating herself for her terrible mistake, telling herself that she had failed again. She gave up and went back for a second piece. She felt so bad about herself that she picked up a pizza and ice cream on the way home.
Although Guilt was well intentioned, her unrealistic expectations and the shame and blame she heaped on herself were preventing her from learning, improving, and forgiving herself when she made choices that didn’t work out well. She even felt guilty for feeling guilty!
When Guilt finally asked her sister for help, Regret explained that while there's always room for improvement, toddlers fall down many times before becoming proficient at walking. They may cry but they don't feel ashamed. Instead they get up, make adjustments, and try again.
Regret’s favorite words of wisdom:
- Perfection is not possible--or necessary.
- When you make a mistake, don't miss the lesson.
- Small changes slowly add up to big changes.
To whom do you relate, Regret, Guilt or neither?
Michelle May, M.D. is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. Download chapter one free. Dr. May is also the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Workshops and Facilitator Training Program that helps individuals learn to break free from mindless and emotional eating to live a more vibrant, healthy life.
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