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May 24, 2023

Dear Survivor: “Don’t stress the ‘could have’s.’ If it ‘should have,’ it ‘would have.’”

The “could haves.”

We torture ourselves with regrets. We beat ourselves up.

“Forgiveness is accepting the past could never have been any different than what it was.”

And we often don’t forgive ourselves. The “could have been” mentality will make sure that we won’t.

Why do we do this? Some possible explanations…


Many of us have had unhealthy modelling of human behavior, especially during our childhoods. And if there was severe dysfunctional behavior, like that of abuse or addiction, we have a distorted, potentially harmful, concept of what constitutes such things as “family,” “marriage,” and “normal.”

These issues can affect us, lifelong.

Fighting the Modeling.

“Could- have-should-have-would-have-been” is, likewise, another concept that becomes distorted. It intimidates us. It impacts our sense of what we can expect in our lives; what is realistic. Part of the challenge involves the premise of accepting versus rejecting.

How much do we battle what’s realistic and healthy?

Do we accept the familiar toxicity?

Do we challenge, dismantle, and learn newer thoughts and behaviors that counter the regret-fueled defeat of “Could- have-should-have-would-have-been?”


We can also struggle with the tools. Therapy, support groups, different kinds of people, and new ideas are all part of the toolkit we can embrace or struggle with.

It’s unique and personal how we deal with these tools. Do they liberate us from the “Could- have-should-have-would-have-been” mindset? Do we argue against any tools, asserting that this “Could- have-should-have-would-have-been” belief carries more weight and validity?

There are other ways to live.

That statement is broad; it is detailed. Newer, different, and less- familiar tools can empower us against the hopeless, helpless defeat of regret.

Do we allow that to happen?

Are we open to allowing that to happen, more and more, in our lives?

Do we use tools?


Where are we?

We can be trapped by context. Time and place. It can be the tricky head game of past versus present: where and when are we?

If our emotional and mental states, fueled by flashbacks, regularly operate in a time and place that is not here and now, we can struggle to move forward with circumstances that run contrary to the familiar abusive, toxic, and dysfunctional “past.”

“The past” can become “present” all too easily.

We can become resigned to believing that how things were in that treacherous past will be how things are, right now, and into the future.

And here is where the “Could- have-should-have-would-have-been” belief really starts wreaking havoc.

Struggle plus defeating regret?

Well, that’s the recipe for unfulfilling life, now, isn’t it?

If we go about our lives, leaving that assertion unchallenged, we can accept a distorted and bleak perception as reality. It’s not to minimize the struggle; it is real, painful, with overwhelming crippling feelings attached to the belief the entire time we experience it.

Yet, we can stop, within the painful moment, doing our best to remind ourselves that the past, with its incidents and feelings, is not happening here and now. “Being present” is a common buzz phrase increasingly uttered today. It’s becoming more common because it is the reality that now, centered in a “here” of whatever geographical place we find ourselves in, is what we have.

Not past.

Not fear-inducing future.

No matter what feelings tell us otherwise.

Now. Not then. Here. Not “there.”

When and where are we…really? The facts of reality, not feelings of former traumas, are the concrete assurance.

Can we be open to tapping into that concrete assurance?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

Winston Churchill


Momentum or Stagnation?

It happened… and we’re not failures because of it.

“Could- have-should-have-would-have-been.”

The torture resides in the different outcome. If we ruminate in regret, beating ourselves for situations that could not have gone differently, for whatever reasons, we can feel and reflect a kind of paralysis, showing up in our behaviors and choices.

“It” happened… and we’re not failures because of “it.”

Repeat: “it” happened… and we’re not failures because of “it.”

Whatever was in the past. Whatever was the modeling. Whatever was the distortion.

Yes, “it” happened.

Are we propelled or stagnate by the reality of “it happened?”

“Could- have-should-have-would-have-been” doesn’t need to be the final determination. We can challenge any regret-laden circumstances.

It’s not easy. Our struggle over whatever events and circumstances affecting our lives does not mean we are failures. We are survivors.

It’s time we stopped punishing ourselves.

“Could- have-should-have-would-have-been” is not stronger than our survival.

Let’s not regret what it took to survive. We’re here because of it.

Copyright © 2023 by Sheryle Cruse



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