Guilt and Regret Guilt and regret are very powerful and often misunderstood feelings. Guilt is the feeling that results when a person believes she has done something wrong. Regret is the desire to change something that has already happened. After an abortion a woman may feel sad and bad and confused. These feelings of sadness and loss may be misinterpreted as guilt and regret through a process of faulty logic like this: “If I chose to have the abortion and I feel sad and bad about it, it must have been the wrong decision. Therefore, I should feel guilty and regret my choice to have an abortion.” Having an abortion can be unusual circumstance for some women. A woman may feel very sad about her loss of the pregnancy and since she chose to have the abortion, she becomes both the sufferer of the loss and the person who caused the loss; this can lead a woman to emotionally ‘beat herself up’. Guilt and regret are the weapons she uses to do this. It is helpful that a woman look realistically at why she chose to have an abortion. Often, this is the logic that is truer: “I chose to have an abortion. It is a loss. It was a difficult choice to make and I am very sad about it. I deeply regret that the situation wasn’t different. I wish I were in a time and place where I could have parented or placed a child for adoption. I made the best decision I could at the time with the resources that I had.” Let’s look at each of these compelling emotions separately. Guilt Guilt is the feeling that you have done something wrong. Feeling guilty after an abortion can happen for several reasons: A woman feels sad and disappointed that she didn’t live up to her own beliefs. She may believe that she disappointed someone else by not meeting their expectations. She may worry that she will be ‘found out’ or punished. A woman may wallow in guilt as a self punishment. She may think she owes an emotional price for having had an abortion. Although sometimes guilt has a positive outcome, it can be very harmful. Guilt may act as a temporary motivator for a woman to change some part of her life; however, it is mostly draining, damaging and destructive. Guilt is relational. That is, you can only feel guilty within a belief system that says what you did is wrong. When a woman is in the middle of emotional chaos, she cannot be objective, that is, she cannot see things from a higher place. If a woman gives herself some time and remembers why she made the decision she did, she may come to see her situation from a different perspective. It can be difficult to move through guilt without some assistance. When we spend a lot of time in our own thoughts, we can drive ourselves crazy. If you are feeling guilty, seek out a helpful person: a friend, family member or a professional counselor, like those at Options Sexual Health Association (780 423 3737) or Woman’s Health Options (780 484 1124). It is important to figure out exactly what you are feeling guilty about in order to move beyond the negative feelings. Try writing: “I am feeling guilty because...” Write as many answers as possible. A woman may write she feels: she she she she she she has ended a life; is selfish; must suffer or she won’t be forgiven; ‘let’ herself get pregnant; pushed her partner away or is guilty because she doesn’t feel bad about having an abortion. Once a woman has identified why she is feeling guilty it can be helpful to remember why she made the decision to have an abortion. Try writing: “I had an abortion because…” It is important to keep in mind that all women have abortion for different reasons and often there are many factors that lead to a woman’s decision to have an abortion; one reason is no less important than another. Make sure your reasons are fairly concrete. It doesn’t help to write “I had an abortion because…. I am a dork”. You will only feel bad about yourself and will not gain any insight. This is where it can be helpful to have another person to talk with about your feelings. Once you have recognized what is causing you to feel guilty then absolve yourself from it; find a way to forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness will come in changing the way you think about yourself and how you treat yourself. Try following some of the coping after abortion tips. Think about healthy and constructive ways to channel your intense feelings, such as creating visual art, writing a poem or story or doing some volunteer work. Rituals or ceremonies can be a constructive way to gain self forgiveness. You can use the following link to get an idea about what a forgiveness ritual looks like. Only when a woman decides that she deserves forgiveness will she be able to move forward. Negative self talk is a common when a person experiences feelings of guilt. Changing the negative talk into positive talk will likely relieve negative feelings. Using positive affirmations can be an effective way to change the way a woman feels about her abortion decision. Regret We often overuse or misuse the word regret. If you are saying ‘I regret having an abortion’ make sure you are not confusing regret with sadness about one of the many losses you may be feeling. Any feelings of sadness and loss need to be recognized and grieved. A woman who identifies some the losses she is feeling will better be able to cope with these strong feelings. It can be frightening if you are experiencing emotions that are more intense than you expected. Sometimes when we are feeling confused and sad or guilty we use the term regret, because we don’t know how to cope with such intense emotions. It is easier to say “if I had never had an abortion, I wouldn’t be feeling this way now” rather than dealing with the feelings. (This intensity is a sign you should be talking to a friend or counselor). True regret is when you wish you had made a different decision even if placed in the exact same circumstances in the exact same place and time. Women make the decision to have an abortion based on many inter-related factors (ex: poverty, single parenthood, relationship break-up, family violence, etc…) Often the situation and circumstance around the pregnancy are the main factors that influence a woman to choose abortion. It is important to remember that situation and circumstance are sometimes unchangeable no matter how much we wish they were different. There are many reasons why a woman might feel regretful after having an abortion. She may feel: she didn’t live up to her own beliefs and values; ‘weak’ for not wanting to give birth or place a child for adoption or she didn’t have all the information she needed at the time to make a decision. To ease regret or help to avoid this kind of thinking, try writing a letter to yourself and then putting it away to look at later if needed. In the letter describe the circumstances you were in and the reasons you chose to have an abortion. Write a little bit about how you are feeling and who you have shared with or not and why. As time passes after an event, for good or bad, our memories fade. It is easier to look back on a situation and recreate it for our own purpose now, than to remember it accurately. If you write a letter close to when you had the abortion, you can put it away to read later if needed. This way you’ll be able to remember what you were going through at the time you made this decision. Regret is a powerful weapon in hurting yourself, but other than that, it truly serves no useful purpose. A person can regret something forever and that doesn’t change a thing. All this will do is keep you stuck in the past, unable to move forward, feel joy and learn from your experience. It can be much harder to let go of regret than to hang on to it. A woman who learns to let go of her regret can turn that self-destructive energy into more constructive pursuits: art of all forms, volunteer work, nurturing others and herself. Experiencing intense emotions after an abortion can sometimes mean that the feelings surrounding the abortion have reopened old emotional wounds. A woman who can identify where her feelings are coming from can gain insight into her life and how she can change things to feel better about herself. As difficult as it can be, use this as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than to stay stuck and depressed. If you are experiencing intense feelings, of regret or other emotions, talk to a counselor. These feelings can be very difficult to cope with and you don't need to do it alone. When you are having these intense feelings, try to stop your thinking and repeat: “I am only human. I am doing the best I can." Be kind and gentle with yourself; show yourself compassion.