Regrets and the Panic of Closing Doors

Are you feeling the panic of closing doors?

My German is limited to say the very least. In fact, it doesn’t extend far beyond ‘Doppelgänger’ and ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’! But recently I came across a magnificent addition to my vocabulary: ‘Torschlusspanik’, which literally translated means “gate-shut-panic” or ‘the panic of closing doors’.

The thing is, despite being in a different language, I know EXACTLY what it means… or rather, I know the complex emotion that Torschlusspanik sums up…. regret, combined with the fear that time, and hence opportunities, are running out.

It’s an emotion that many of us experience – even if we sometimes struggle to fully express it. I hear it time and time again from friends and clients when they try to give voice to some of their more unsettling feelings about ageing as they move into their Third Age.

It is without doubt a powerful, gut-wrenching emotion

Let’s face it, everybody has regrets – missed opportunities, paths not taken, ideas not pursued.

They say that in the end you only regret the things you didn’t do, not the things you did and you know, when I look back, I’m aware that of ALL the things I truly regret NONE of them – not a single one – was about things I did do.

Even when some of those choices were difficult, challenging or heart-breaking, they were – and still are – incredibly precious and valuable experiences that I look back on with a degree of pride in knowing that at least I went for it and gave it my all.

The dull ache of regret

However, what I STILL struggle with are those harder to reconcile ‘woulda-coulda-shoulda’ moments – the ones that linger on in the memory, resurfacing at regular intervals, accompanied  a churning feeling in the pit of the stomach – quite literally gut-wrenching!

They’re the feelings that keep dragging me down that well-worn path of ‘what if?’ without ever leading anywhere new! Regret for roads not taken can be particularly agonising as we transition into our Third Age where we often struggle to come to terms with who ‘we might have been’ and the sinking feeling that ‘it’s too late’.

The panic of closing doors

There’s no getting away from it, staring at that shut door hurts! It’s completely natural to respond with mixed emotions – including panic – as we say goodbye to one significant life stage and move into the next.

But let’s not forget the purpose behind the pain.  

It is important to make peace with the things that are changing or ending so that we are ready to explore our future options unhindered by feelings of loss and resentment. The upside is that these ‘endings’ are nothing to do with finality – they are simply a pre-condition of self-renewal and the start of a whole new chapter in our lives.

How do you deal with endings? Are you someone who holds on to your old ways for dear life, trying to avoid the pain of change? Or do you just move on, dismissing the old as if it didn’t count?

Well, you’ve probably discovered that neither option has served you particularly well. The first simply postpones the inevitable and the other fails to recognise that without closure on the past, moving on is difficult. The result of either option is that you forego the advantages of moving into a different stage of life.

So what do we DO with our regrets?

We ALL have them but have very different ways of dealing (or not dealing) with them. None of us can do anything about what’s gone but we can do an enormous amount with the future ahead of us

If we are willing to confront our regrets and disappointments and engage in an honest process of self-exploration, regrets CAN serve a very positive purpose – they can inspire, motivate and provide real clarity about how you want to live your life going forward.

Turn your regrets into a potent force for change

  • Acknowledge them!
    What are the things that you most regret? List them!
    What are the things you think about along the lines of, ‘If only’ or ‘What if I’?
    What do you repeatedly think about but dismiss as being ‘too late now’?
    Who was the person you wanted to be?
    Who is the self that you feel is now gone for good?
  • Listen with compassion to what your regrets are trying to tell you.  
    What lessons can you learn from this?
    How can you grow from it?
    What aspect of yourself is still waiting to be expressed?
    What can it tell you about the opportunities for renewal in your next evolution? What needs will you have to find other ways to fulfil?
  • And finally…. take action
    What can you now say yes to?
    What’s waiting in the wings ready to make its entrance? (You may not KNOW, but I bet you have a sense of what it could be.)

When one door closes...

I’ve come around to thinking that maybe a little Torschlusspanik is actually a healthy thing if it encourages us to engage in our transition and in doing so, motivates us into action!

So, is it time for YOU to close the door on your ‘shoulda, coulda, wouldas’… time to turn your back on them and walk forward, towards the adventures awaiting you behind the next new door?

While you’re thinking about that, I’d just like to leave you with this wonderfully appropriate piece of advice by Helen Keller:

“When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

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