This week marks the start of March, the third month of Lori’s book leave. March is always a time of rebirth, a time when we look ahead to spring. This year, with the emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic on the horizon, those feelings are all the more intense.
But moving forward doesn’t mean leaving the past behind—it means figuring out how to make sense of it in the present. In this month’s “Dear Therapist” retrospective, we look at the advice that Lori has given to readers who are dealing with feelings of regret. One theme emerges: Don’t run away from your pain, but toward it.
This isn’t to say that you should keep punishing yourself by obsessing over your past. But you do need to address it. For those who have hurt someone close to them, Lori, in one of my favorite “Dear Therapist” passages of all time, offers coaching on what a true apology looks like—a rare and astonishing sight:
You can start with a sincere apology. A sincere apology is heartfelt and empathic and entirely about the person receiving it. A letter in this spirit might go something like this: “I owe you an apology, and I wish I’d offered it much sooner. I know that I’ve hurt you deeply, and I’m truly sorry for that. I would like to know more about your experience, because I’ve come to realize that I failed to see earlier that I put you through a lot of pain. You may be so hurt and distrusting of me that you don’t want to open up lines of communication, but I want you to know that I love you deeply and I’m committed to really listening to you and hearing you in a way I should have long ago. One idea I have is that maybe we could talk about some of this, at least initially, with a therapist of your choice. Of course, I love and miss you very much, but I also want to respect where you are. I hope that at some point you’ll be willing to talk with me about this. Whatever you decide, I want you to know that I’m starting to see my role in your pain, and am so sorry for it.”
But sometimes we have regrets that can’t be fixed with outreach or atonement; or, sometimes, our regret is for the harm we have done to ourselves. In these scenarios, too, Lori advises readers: work to understand your pain, and then use what you learn to be better—better to those around you, and better to yourself. As Lori writes in response to one letter she received, “The good news is that this letter is the key you’ve been holding. Use it to set yourself free.”