I know many people who cannot forgive themselves over the human errors they make. After much therapy, meditation and practice, I can move on from certain kinds of slips much more readily than others. Some mistakes are so painful, the pain can seem overwhelming. My insides feel almost raw with vulnerability and shame.
I’m interested in understanding how a mistake can cause such deep emotion. I’m not talking about cataclysmic actions; I’m just talking about those every day things we do or do not do to cause us such pain. I hate those times. I feel like I want to rip out my heart, just not to feel those shameful feelings.
People are wired to respond a certain way to certain situations-like bad habits. Were we shamed as children? Were we taught that our errors were catastrophic by the reactions of others around us? Some of the mistakes I made led to spankings and other shaming punishments. My child-like understanding became some mistakes were unforgivable. Some mistakes had to be punished.
So I deducted that I should attempt to be perfect. However certain states of being we strive for are unattainable. There is a label for individuals who strive constantly to achieve perfection called “Neurotic Perfectionism” and the theory is these people strive towards this state to avoid feelings of inadequacy.
“Blatt (1995) has argued that some individuals set unattainable goals of perfection for themselves because they are driven by the need to continually escape feelings of inferiority. This type of striving he labels neurotic, distinguishing it from adaptive or normal perfectionism associated with high personal standards and achievement goals. Those who are more accepting of themselves and their own human fallibility should be less likely to evidence neurotic perfectionism.”
Trying to be perfect and to avoid mistakes can put us in a narcissistic state-as if there is something within all of us capable of avoiding being human. Plus, it is very tiring trying to avoid mistakes. Little time is spent in the pursuit of being authentic and genuine. We can’t be authentic if we’re trying to avoid being human.
So if I can’t be perfect, perhaps I would serve myself better by mourning the loss of my rigid expectations. Grieve over my inability to accept my infallibility and the time lost trying to achieve something impossible. I have experienced the process of deeply feeling the loss and then letting it go. This allows me to move forward. I have the power and understanding to change my reactions. I don’t need to shame myself. I can forgive, clean up and move on.