“I’m such a freakin’ moron,” Bud muttered under his breath. He had just made a wrong turn, and now he was going to be late meeting his friends.
“How can I explain this to everyone so I don’t look bad?” Bonnie wondered. She had forgotten to bring the group gift for her colleague’s birthday party. “Maybe I’ll tell them it didn’t arrive in time. Then they won’t think it’s my fault,” she thought.
“I made one little error, and now I’ve wasted 2 days going down the wrong path,” Brett realized. He shuddered as the reality of the situation sunk in, literally rattling him to the core. “The whole group is going to see this,” he concluded with certainty, feeling miserably exposed. He tried to fight off those negative thoughts and feelings, but it continued to hang over him and his entire weekend was ruined.
Do you identify with Bud, Bonnie, or Brett?
Are you your own worst critic and harshest judge?
Are you far more forgiving of other people’s mistakes than your own?
If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, then I want to help you become aware of some significant ways that you are getting in your own way in your life, and likely harming yourself in totally unnecessary ways.
But don’t worry, I am also going to tell you how to fix it.
4 Important Facts About Mistakes
- There is not a person alive who does not make multiple mistakes every single day. That’s because errors are built into the human condition.
- The huge majority of mistakes are common among all people and correctable.
- Most errors, even frustrating ones, are met with understanding by other people, mostly because they know they could have made it themselves.
- Mistakes have value. They are a way to improve yourself.
Most people do not talk about their small, daily mistakes openly. Partly because they are uninteresting, but also because they don’t want to expose what they feel are their personal failings.
This is all well and good except that we are all left to believe that we are alone in our “mistake bubble.” Our lack of knowledge about others’ mistakes makes us feel we make more than everyone else.
About Mistakes Made By People Who Ignore Their Feelings
As a psychologist and expert in Childhood Emotional Neglect — which sets you up to ignore your feelings as an adult — I have seen that people who do not actively notice, process, and manage their own feelings are far more vulnerable to harsh self-judgments.
Why? Because mistakes and errors always engender emotions. And unexamined feelings are far more powerful than ones that have been noticed, named, and actively managed.
So if you are someone who grew up with your parents under-responding to your feelings, you have likely continued this your whole adult life. And your unprocessed feelings are probably giving your mistakes much more power to harm you than they should ever have.
Bud, Bonnie & Brett
Bud has immediately become a victim of his own feelings. He has automatically jumped to attacking himself instead of trying to bring balance to the situation. In doing so he is damaging his self-esteem and self-worth, and bringing more panic to a situation that does not call for it.
Bonnie has a great fear of looking stupid, and she has put herself at the full mercy of that fear. She has jumped to a “solution” that involves a lie that she will never be able to feel good about. This contributes to her deeply held fear and belief that she’s actually not capable, and leaves her sitting alone with all that.
Brett’s fear of exposure has overtaken him and goes unprocessed. Since he does not actively take charge of managing it, it hangs over him and unnecessarily ruins his entire weekend.
The Answer: Compassionate Accountability
After watching scores of emotionally neglected people attack themselves, try to hide their mistakes, and suffer needlessly, I created the concept of Compassionate Accountability to help them to better cope with their mistakes. I am sharing it now with you, along with a tried-and-true assurance that it works.
Compassionate Accountability is the 3 step process that takes you from making a mistake to moving beyond it.
- Own your mistake. To do this, say to yourself, “I made a mistake. I’m human. I will take accountability for it, and I will work my way through this.” Then check your emotions. Name what you are feeling.
- Show yourself compassion. Think through how this mistake happened. What part of it was your fault? What factors contributed to your part? What part of it was outside of your control? Is there a way to take control of that in the future?
- Learn from it. This piece is crucial because it is the act of gleaning the self-improvement part that allows you to put this mistake behind you and move on. Ask yourself: What has this mistake taught me? How can I do better next time?
And now it is time to put this mistake behind you and move on.
Brett Practices Compassionate Accountability
- As soon as Brett sees his mistake he says to himself, “I made a mistake. I’m human. I will take accountability for it, and I will work my way through this.” He checks his emotions and realizes he is having strong ones. He names them: fear of exposure, fear of incompetence, and anger (at himself).
- Brett thinks through his error. He realizes he likely contributed to the problem by listening to music while working, a new thing he was trying at work. He also acknowledged that this was a particularly difficult project, and a kind of task that was fairly new to him, both factors outside of his control.
- Brett identifies the following ways to improve himself: He will stop listening to music at work; he will make an effort to pay extra close attention when working on this type of new task, and he will study up on it some more. Then he puts this mistake behind him knowing that he has learned from it.
The following Monday, well rested from an enjoyable weekend, Brett goes into work. He has studied up on the new skill over the weekend, and announces to his team that he was thrown off-track for 2 days due to an error, but has taken action to fix it and is now on the right path. One or two people seem a little annoyed, but the meeting goes on, and he can tell it’s not a big deal.
Yes, a surprise, and here it is. This article is about far more than your mistakes. It’s also about you and your feelings. The process of Compassionate Accountability is really a process of paying attention to your feelings, acknowledging them, and actively managing them.
Did you learn how to do that in childhood? Are you practiced and skilled at it? If not, it’s not because you are flawed. It’s because you didn’t learn the skills in your childhood, most likely because your parents didn’t have them.
You can learn the skills you missed, and you can use them to change many things about your life. You can learn much more about why you ignore your feelings and how to change that in the bestselling book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.
Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and hard to remember so it can be difficult to know if you grew up with it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.