My client feels like crap. She made a mistake. It’s true that it is a significant, even life altering mistake. It’s also true that had she been more diligent the mistake might not have happened at all. But here we are, mistake is made and now there are consequences.
She blames herself and starts pointing to all the ways she’s failed, all the ways she could have prevented it from ever happening, all the ways that she is now, because of her recklessness, bad and unworthy of love or compassion. She calls herself selfish, irresponsible, a failed human being. She’s scarfing Cheetos and a bottle of wine, in bed, watching re-runs of Modern Family.
I know that she’s not a failed human being. I know that she is worthy of love and is intrinsically good. I have to help her to believe it too.
There’s a belief that if you do something that is “wrong” you should name it, blame someone and then punish the person at fault until they’re a bloody mess. Most of the women I work with do this to themselves, a lot.
They believe that if they name, blame and punish that there is a righting of the wrong.
It doesn’t work that way.
Punishing yourself will not prevent you from mistakes in the future, it will not change your behavior or choices from the past, and it will shut you off from your power and wisdom in the present.
Punishing yourself will keep you spiraling through feelings of shame, anger, and lack of compassion for yourself and others. These feelings will rob you of the opportunity to grow that comes from exploring mistakes with an open heart. It will keep you stuck in the past.
I explain this to her and by the end of our call she’s starting to smile again. In talking through the details of how this had happened she came to realize that although she is ultimately responsible for the consequences of her actions she had made choices based on a flawed premise, not because she was evil, not because she was bad. She doesn't deserve punishment, she deserves compassion, support and a practical solution.
By working through her mistake with an open heart she learned from this mistake and is taking steps to prevent it from happening again. Added benefits from this approach - she now feels compassion for women who find themselves in a similar position whereas before she felt judgement. It’s a win-win for everyone!