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What could be worse?

Photo by Jasper Boer on Unsplash

“The purpose of learning from ones mistakes is to change future behaviors.”

It’s bad enough when we’ve discovered that our actions led to a wrong choice, poor decision or damaging mistake. Depending on who and what were involved, those mishaps can lead to all types of embarrassing situations and feelings. Is there anything worse than realizing when something like this happens?

Suffering the consequences of our own mistakes is bad enough but when others are put in harm’s way because of it, that frequently magnifies the pain we’re already experiencing.

What could be more troublesome than enduring fallout from a mistake or bad choice? Most people are remorseful even when their slightest action causes others discomfort. Typically, the discomfort we experience is in direct proportion to the harm that was done. Hopefully, there’s an opportunity to atone or at least compensate them for their loss, yet that doesn’t always cause us to be free from the emotional pain.

Believe it or not, there is still something worse; at least when it comes to the realm of emotional healing. What I’ve discovered, not only in my own journey but also from working with many clients, is that there is something more detrimental than making a mistake or suffering from the devastating feelings it leaves behind. That is continuing to “beat ourselves up” for making the mistake in the first place.

The initial mistake can evoke several mixed emotions; however, people tend to compound that error by unduly criticizing themselves. How often have you blundered and then continued demanding of yourself why you weren’t smart enough – or any other demeaning term – to figure that out? Occasionally, the slightest of slipups induces the harshest of self-criticisms because we thought that issue would never become an obstacle again.

It’s important – especially if we are on a journey of emotional healing – not to be excessively disparaging of the mistakes we’ve made. Keep in mind these errors have already occurred and there’s no going back in time. They should be looked upon now as lessons. Having an inflammatory outlook causes you to focus on the wrong aspect of this experience.

Incredibly, the way we react to these situations is frequently a learned behavior.

Much of what influences our reactions is based on cultural, environmental, and/or religious upbringings. The self-degradation is often intended to be a sign of humility and meekness. We want others to “see” how sorry we are for this mistake. Although it is important we do own up to them, the key is realizing it ourselves, and not that others understand we have.

There are countless reasons why our reactions to mistakes can end up in an overly profuse amount of self-deprecation, but generally, most boil down to one reason: shame.

Understanding shame – and the difference between guilt and shame – is one of the first constructs I teach my clients. Shame, as it pertains to us individually, is the negative things we’ve come to learn about who we were and are. When our reactions to a mistake cause us to excessively degrade and demean ourselves, it’s plain to see how this all points to shame.

Processing mistakes as guilt rather than shame helps us make these moments become lessons and not obstructions. Guilt, when understood in context, can be a moral compass of sorts. Having awful feelings because we made a wrong choice or decision is quite different from beating ourselves up for being too dumb (or any other derrogatory term). Recalling how badly we felt in that moment will help amend future behavior when we find ourselves in a similar predicament.

This week pay close attention to your reactions to bad choices or mistakes you’ve made. Is your inclination to put yourself down, get angry with yourself, or complain about your shortcomings? It’s not for me to tell you that it is shame, but understanding your reaction will be a good way to gain insight into yourself. It just might change your future behaviors for the good.

My thanks to Jasper Boer on Unsplash for the wonderful photo and I look forward you your comments.

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