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Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

As the calendar turns to a new year it is often a time for reflection. When you look back into your past, you may be flooded with many emotions, both positive and negative. Life is messy and things often don’t go as “planned.” If you are not able to make peace with your past, it may continue to haunt you.

Do you find your mind often replaying the same upsetting movie over and over and over again, stealing your attention, sapping your energy, keeping you in the past and preventing your from enjoying the present?

These ghosts from your past that you are trying to make peace with are often expressed as coulda, woulda, shoulda:

“I could’ve…”
“I would’ve…”
“I should’ve…”

Sound familiar?

Perhaps these thoughts are affecting your work. Perhaps they are affecting your relationships. Maybe they keep you restless at night, tossing and turning.  Maybe they make you feel guilty and ashamed. Maybe you are tired of feeling this way.

In this burden you bear, you are not alone.

The good news is that you can overcome the ghosts of your past. How? By sharing your experiences. This can be scary, but ultimately, it is through sharing your story that you can make peace with your coulda, woulda, shoulda.

As a professional trained in psychodynamic therapy, I am a firm believer that many of the experiences of your past play a role in your present.  That’s why I use this therapy to help my clients recognize, acknowledge, express, and overcome their negative emotions.

“Emotions play a central role in the success of psychodynamic therapies. The neural networks that organize emotions are often shaped to guide us away from thoughts and feeling for which we were punished or abandoned. Unconscious anxiety signals continue to shape our behavior, leading us to remain on tried-and-true paths and avoid situations that trigger our unremembered past.”  (Cozolino, 2010, p. 36)

Let’s look at some common ghosts of the past:

“I could’ve done more to help, but I didn’t…”
“He would’ve loved me if…”
“I should’ve stayed home that night and things would’ve been different…”

I often wonder aloud with my clients, “How would things have been different? What would have changed? Was the situation really in your control? Or is this an unrealistic expectation you are putting on yourself? If so, let’s talk about that.” I work with my clients to help them develop deeper insight and self-awareness.

“It is not really about the presence or absence of negative feelings and judgments; it’s about their power. Forgiving oneself means not that one no longer experiences self-reproach but that one is no longer in bondage to it, no longer controlled or crippled by it, no longer alienated from oneself, so that one can now live well enough” (Dillon, 1991, p. 83).

What burden do you bear? Would you like to consider releasing some of the weight of it in this coming year?

I’d like to hear your story. Reach out to me here:



Dillon, R. (2001). Self-forgiveness and self-respect. Ethics, 112, 53-83.

Cozolino, L. (2010). The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain (2nd ed.). New York, NY: W. W Norton & Company.

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