Have you ever made a mistake? I’m going to guess yes, and there’s no shame in that. We all do it, because we’re all human. However, how we respond to it can have a real impact.
When we stuff up, it can feel like we’ve punched ourselves in the gut. We might feel a range of emotions, perhaps cross with ourselves, and/or guilt for any damage it did. It can get really problematic if we tend to move in to unhelpful commentary; when we forget to separate what we did with who we are. Instead of just saying “that was a mistake”, we might say things like “I’m such an idiot”. And so we call ourselves names, and beat ourselves up – often when we don’t need. (That’s the tricky thing about emotions, we can feel guilt even when we’ve done nothing wrong).
Yet, most of us wouldn’t dream of speaking to a friend like that – so why do we to it to ourselves? It’s not easy to become your own friend, granted, but the alternative is we spend forever on our own case. Where do we draw the line on punishing ourselves; when is “enough”? We weren’t born hating ourselves or anyone else, but over time we develop coping strategies and learned (even taught) behaviour that can lead to a sense of unfriendliness towards ourselves. And honestly, there’s no need for it. There’s literally no scientific evidence that says, when you cock things up, giving yourself a hard time will help.
So what can we do?
This week, maybe set the intention to Befriend the Error. You might think it absurd to see a spectacular mistake as something that can help you, but bear with me. If we lean in to what happened, we can see what went wrong, what we can take from it, and how we can grow. Any additional commentary to that (about how “bad” we are) is known as “secondary suffering” – we put pain on top of the pain (of the mistake) by saying unkind things to ourselves, and it serves no purpose whatsoever except to make us feel more bad.
So, if you realise you’ve dropped a clanger, you could say to yourself:
– “That wasn’t my intention, I will learn from that”.
– “I made a mistake, I will do what I can to correct it”.
– or, “This is a learning opportunity”. And of course, if we need to say sorry, we can do that.
Self-compassion also means knowing when you’re not ok, and recognising early warning signs of that; when we’re not ourselves, we’re bound to mess up now and then. If your coping mechanisms are unhelpful, that can also contribute to the sticky situation you find yourself in, so learning new, healthier ones can be beneficial. Mindfulness can also help you know when you’re not ok and consider more healthy coping strategies that might work.
To quote Pema Chödrön, sometimes the hardest times we have are the ones we give ourselves. So try and take what you need from what’s happened, and leave the rest behind.
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You might also like: my book Answers In The Dark: Grief, Sleep and How Dreams Can Help You Heal, out now.
© Delphi Ellis 2023