None of us are perfect. So why do we repeatedly punish ourselves for our mistakes while we easily forgive everyone else?
First, being able to practice compassion towards others is a beautiful and desirable trait. When the people around us make mistakes, we console them and we comfort them. If they’ve hurt us, we forgive them.
“No one is perfect,” we say to them.
Because really, no one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes.
So why do we struggle to practice that same compassion towards ourselves?
Recently, I found myself in an unpleasant situation and I mishandled the entire thing, from start to finish.
I had the option, from the very beginning, to act mature, speak my words, and walk away as the bigger person.
But in a state of heightened emotions, I did everything but act mature.
I said hurtful things out of insecurity to someone I love, and I did all of this because I was motivated by feelings I hadn’t even processed yet.
Before giving myself time to understand why I was feeling what I was feeling, I acted out of pure emotion.
It was a disaster.
And even after I made amends with the person involved, the words I wished I could take back lingered in my mind.
They had granted me closure, sure. But I had not forgiven myself. I didn’t understand just then how important it is for us to forgive ourselves.
A week after the incident, I was still giving myself a hard time. I was having conversations with myself about how childish I had acted, while I washed the dishes. And when I got out of the shower. And while I tried to write.
“I can’t believe you said that. Why would you say that? They’re never going to forget it.”
I found myself distracted throughout my day, sitting at my desk with a blank document while rapid flashbacks of shame and guilt from that day ran through my mind. I was lashing out at myself, and it was getting in the way of my productivity, my sleep, and my work.
I realized I needed some serious help in processing my emotions.
I wasn’t moving on from this big screw-up of mine. I couldn’t move on. I wasn’t as equipped to handle the aftermath of the situation as I believed myself to be, and I needed help on how to process the feelings I was having.
So, I did what many people do when they’re unsure of what the next step is. I researched online for articles and books on how to get to the root of my emotions, and I came across the book Emotional Processing: How to Work Your Way through Almost Anything by Dr. Stormy Smoleny.
I finished it in a few days; it was really that helpful. It became my emotional guide and it taught me that this form of self-attack I was carrying out was common but extremely unhealthy.
Two of my favorite quotes about being more self-compassionate from Dr. Smoleney (which are now posted in my work area) are:
“A simple rule of thumb is that when we become aware of the fact that we are attacking ourselves, i.e., feeling depressed, rejected, stupid, expendable, ashamed, guilty, worthless, etc., we must immediately acknowledge that we are off base. In fact, we are supremely off base. Acknowledging this fact alone can keep us from fully succumbing to our inner self-attacker.”
“When speaking to our emotional self, it can be very helpful to personify it, thereby seeing it as a separate entity. This makes what we are inwardly saying seem more real and makes us realize how exceptionally cruel we are being.”
I had never seen it so clear before. These self-attacking thoughts of mine were off base.
The things I was telling myself, I would never say if the roles were reversed. I would have forgiven them by now, and shown them compassion. I would’ve told them, “No one is perfect.”
Only by knowing I was in the wrong by focusing so much energy on this screw-up of mine, would I then be able to get back on track and halt this negative self-attacking spiral.
So I journaled a lot. I meditated a lot. And I began to shut down the self-attacking thoughts as soon as they entered my mind. Days went by, and I caught myself thinking less and less of that day. I knew I was embarrassed it happened, and there was nothing I could do to take that day back.
But I could now move forward, and use this mistake as a learning lesson.
After providing myself with some badly needed self-closure, I posted a very clique quote in my work area.
“No one is perfect. No one is perfect. No one is perfect.”
I wrote it out three times because I know we see this sentence often, and we read it. We accept it. We know it’s true.
But we do not live it.
And I needed to start living it.
I’m not the only person who has said something they wished they could take back. We all act out of emotion sometimes. We say things we shouldn’t say; we don’t practice empathy; we get insecure; we feel inferior; we absorb so much from an environment and factors that have nothing to do with us, and we use them to justify wrong actions.
But making mistakes is a part of life. It’s a part of everyone’s life. Mistakes are how we grow.
And we have to stop being so hard on ourselves when we mess up.
There is nothing wrong with expecting more of ourselves. We should absolutely have high expectations of ourselves. We should always want ourselves to be better because we always can be. None of us have reached our maximum growth potential, and we never will.
We can always learn, improve, and grow. But we must be able to give ourselves that room to grow. How do we grow?
We must make mistakes. We must learn from them. And we must forgive ourselves for not being perfect. Because really, nobody is.
Jessica Mendez is a full-time writer living in Las Vegas, NV. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from NAU and her master’s degree in family and human development from ASU. In 2018, she left her career in mental health to pursue a career in writing. She is currently working on her debut novel and a collection of bilingual poetry. Follow her on Twitter and Medium to read more of her work.
Image courtesy of Chermiti Mohamed.