This is part 9 in a series on why we are so afraid to be ourselves. And how that fear keeps us broke and invisible.
Previous installments can be read via the links below.
Moving from embracing quirks to accepting mistakes is similar in practice, but not in practicality. While habits can be changed, mistakes cannot.
What’s done is done.
I have a friend who has never stopped beating herself up over her divorce. She sees it as a failure and wasted opportunity. Don’t get me started on what I think of my divorces.
I’ve worked with plenty of people who were once alcoholics, druggies, victims. They see the damage left in the aftermath of their choices as absolute. And because of that, they choose not to get over it.
Look, I understand how traumatizing events can be. But time isn’t the only thing that heals wounds. You actually have to decide to let it go and stop beating the shit out of yourself.
Sometimes a client comes to me for business help and we discover a pattern, like the above self-judgement. That’s when I become a life coach too. Because I cannot help them fix one piece of the problem (or it’ll just keep cropping up).
How we do one thing is how we do everything.
Just as we need to reframe our mindset about flaws, we must do the same with our mistakes.
I should have taken that course before the price went up.
I wish I told my dad I loved him one last time.
I can’t believe I did another late-night McDonald’s and Taco Bell run.
Self-acceptance is a challenge.
Instead of focusing on mistakes and flaws, it’s time to pay (far more) attention to your achievements – no matter their size.
Again, this more about shifting perspective than changing anything that happened in your past. If we could take things back and get a do-over, I’d be first in line. But nobody can. Nobody. And it doesn’t do us any good to look at that fact alone.
Unlike a flaw or a quirk, I define a mistake as an event or string of events that lead to feeling like I messed up. This is different than a flaw – because a flaw is a personality trait you carry with you.
A mistake, however, while also carried with you, is something you or another human caused to happen, instead of something that came with you (as a package deal).
What’s so detrimental about mistakes?
On the surface, nothing. We need them to learn. But when we make mistakes and then spend years telling ourselves lies and stories about what kind of person we are because of them, it’s a huge problem. Then we are on a hamster wheel of feeling terrible.
We can replay the scenario so many times, what actually happened becomes foggy or fabricated. Or we can suppress the memory so much, we don’t realize when other things around us trigger the feelings from what we though we buried. Dealing with memories isn’t easy, especially when they lead to guilt.
Regret is a nasty, little beast. Missed opportunities, disappointment or trauma. Something awful happened that has shaped the way you see yourself.
You know what they say about the past?
You can’t change it. You can’t fix it.
All you can do is avoid the same mistake again and move forward, having learned a lesson.
Most importantly, nobody benefits from marinating in bad memories.
Anxious sweating would not exist if you quit thinking about what you can’t control. So would the headaches you get when you’re stressed.
Imagine, just for a second, what it would be like if you could forgive yourself the same way you forgive others. You’d probably feel a hell of a lot better without carrying around that baggage.
Nobody is perfect.
I’m far from it. And I’m sure my kids could tell you about all of my royal muck ups.
The thing is I’m nothing without these events.
Do I want to relive them? Hell no. Do I love how they made me feel at the time? Not for a second.
But without these moments of pain, and the lessons learned, I certainly wouldn’t be the woman I am today. And I definitely wouldn’t be writing this.
If you’re suppressing memories or stuck on the idea that you have to feel shame because of a mistake, then it’s time to work through it.
First, identify the problem.
What moment or event is causing you to feel so bad? Is it more than one thing?
Make a list of the “problems” you see causing you to mentally pummel yourself. Write down everything that feels like it triggers regret, disappointment or failure.
Then dispute it. It’s time for a reality check.
Look back at your list then take your dramatic statement and make it a bit more realistic.
Here’s my example:
“I waited too long to sell my house, now I’m stuck here while my dream home has been sold to the highest bidder. I’ll never be happy anywhere.”
Problem (key) word that shows this is an absolute: “never.”
Is it really true I’ll never be happy anywhere, ever again, because this one house (which I managed to live without for my whole life) is now off the market? Really?
When you catch yourself using the words never, always and forever, or everyone, no one, all the time, call yourself on BS. Then reframe.
True statement: “I missed the opportunity to buy a house I really loved, but I’m sure there are others on the market (or will be) that will make me just as happy, or happier. If I stay diligent in my search and continue working toward getting my current home on the market, I’ll find my dream house eventually.”
In that example, I’m not ignoring that I didn’t get what I wanted. But I am being far kinder to myself and leaving space for a better future.
Mistakes are not what define us. It’s what we do after them that shows who we are.
We live in a world where absolutism is encouraged. But nothing, except death, is the end-all-be-all in our lives. Acting as though the world is ending over and over makes us a little bit like high school drama queens.
More importantly, it also makes every choice, every moment we have to make a decision, really fucking unbearable.
How could we not fear something when we always frame it as THE decision that will change everything?
That’s far too much to live up to.
Reframe, because it makes living through tough decisions and mistakes (which we’re all going to make) a lot more bearable.
Now, let it gooooooooo.
One of the exercises I walk my clients through is to write down, dispute and then burn up their negative beliefs about themselves, and why they don’t deserve the money they want to make.
The same exercise works with mistakes too. Follow the first two steps listed above, then take the shitty things you’ve told yourself and put them to pasture.
Burn ‘em up, rip them into tiny pieces, stomp on them. Whatever you do, the goal is to let go of the regret and shame associated with the past events. Annihilating a piece of paper is symbolic of the moment you decided these memories couldn’t control you anymore.
Then, any time after your goodbye ceremony where you catch yourself thinking about those moments, practice step two again (replace the bad with a kinder, more realistic thought). We learn by repetition. Do not dismiss the power of this. It is life-changing.
For me, writing myself a mantra for the day helps me remember whatever I’m working on. And I always ink it on my skin so it’s there until I wash it off, purposely removing the reminder.
Have you forgiven yourself (or others involved)?
If other people were effected by your behavior and you haven’t apologized to them (if necessary) it’s time to make amends. Likewise, if someone did something to you that caused the problem, it’s probably time to forgive them.
Holding onto negative energy, regardless of whether or not it’s warranted, only punishes you. The other person involved isn’t suffering because you’re harboring resentment or anger. They don’t feel the poison you carry. Only you do.
Once you’ve taken the power away from the exact moment (in your burning/defeating ceremony), you have to come up with a plan that will allow you to claim peace once and for all.
Maybe this means giving up on something you’ve been trying for years and coming up with a new idea.
In my case, the house I wanted was sold, so I’m not sure I’ll ever have the opportunity to buy it. I’ve been looking around for something similar and haven’t found anything yet. Instead of going back to my old “I missed my opportunity” belief, I’ve started looking for property I could buy to build the house that is quite perfect for me.
That’s a big perspective shift from, “I’ll never be happy in any other home.”
The house hunt and constant bashing of myself only made me feel as though I wasn’t good enough. It made me angry every day I got on realtor.com, upset when I’d log off (because I couldn’t have what I wanted) and less likely to put effort into getting this old house on the market.
It was time to change all that.
Now that I’m thinking of building, the only thing holding me back is selling this place. Dream home? Built to my exact specifications AND the motivation to get rid of this place.
Stop holding onto stories you think serve you.
One area I haven’t mentioned yet is when people hold on to past experiences because they believe they benefit them in some way.
For example, if you’ve survived a severe trauma and use that as the key to your identity. This could be – for example – surviving cancer, domestic violence, the biggest flood of the century, or anything else that is, ultimately, life altering.
For clarity, I am in no way insisting these things shouldn’t change your life. What I am saying, however, is you can use them as fuel to grow instead of sitting stagnant.
As an abuse survivor, I hardly ever talk about what I experienced. It’s not a part of my daily dialogue, though you can be certain it has shaped me into the woman I am. For a long time after getting out of this dangerous situation, I let it hinder my life: Who I talked to, who I spent time with, and who I trusted were all determined by what happened to me.
While this doesn’t sound unhealthy and isn’t unhealthy if you’re still in a dangerous situation, it can absolutely cripple you if you’re no longer in danger.
In fact, it rewrites your story in such a way that being a survivor of whatever you endured actually makes you a victim.
Eventually, I had to acknowledge this incredibly difficult truth. I had to acknowledge I was still living as a victim because I thought it was serving me in some way. And, really, it did.
The sympathy and encouragement (read: attention) I received from other people made me feel good. However, their attention did nothing for me in terms of feeling good about myself as a whole human. I still felt like I couldn’t live life fully. I still feared showing up as the real me. I still convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to navigate the world without running into the same problem again (and thought the solution was to keep people out).
By acknowledging the tiny part of me that truly liked being seen as a victim (so I could receive the attention I previously mentioned), I actually began a journey toward repairing my self-worth and confidence.
I actually began to realize how much I was in my own way.
Next up: Sometimes, pretending is exactly what you need to do.