Embarrassment leads to so much attachment to that one moment. We’re social critters, so any failing in front of others looms in our minds like Godzilla.


By David Jones

I feel awful when I mess up, but when there’s collateral damage—when my failure impacts others, letting them down—man, I’m a mess.

Those pernicious accusing voices that show up with anxiety or depressive episodes, those nagging self-doubts, and the desire to punish myself all gang up on me in a dark alley and aren’t interested in my lame excuses. I try to comfort folks when they fall down. I want to make sure they don’t beat themselves up like I do, so I try to help soften their fall.

Since I’ve written about how vital it is to show compassion for self if we want to show it for others, I’m going to (finally) take some of my own medicine. Here are some tips I’m using to cope with my own gaffe.

Mindful acceptance.

Yeah it happened (*sigh*) but the resulting guilt and shame loses a lot of its power over us when we just look reality straight in the eye. That includes accepting our own discomfort over this mess, as well as accepting any consequences of our actions.

Terminal embarrassment.

Embarrassment leads to so much attachment to that one moment. We’re social critters, so any failing in front of others looms in our minds like Godzilla. We replay it in our heads to the point it can interfere with our sleep, thinking, or behavior. It can be a real burden to carry around, and it can manifest in the next point:

Unskillful reactions: fight, flight, or hide.

This isn’t to make anyone feel bad. We all get reactive sometimes, acting out of reflex instead of through consideration. Some react to their own failing or mistake by lashing out at anyone who notices it. Others go into reverse gear and deny it was them, or at least that it wasn’t really their fault.

Then there are folks like me who want to avoid everyone who knows what happened, just wanting it to all go away (and it will get better, just never fast enough).

Try to keep perspective.

Whatever I did, it is only that. It’s not worse or better, not less or more, it is only exactly what it is. This means understanding the reality of what happened without minimizing or magnifying it. What I did will really bother me, but the world doesn’t usually end because of it.

Try not to ruminate.

It’s good to take a minute or ten to sit with my blunder and its associated feelings, but it’s not great to sit with the experience for too long or to keep revisiting it. Reliving it beyond any nugget of wisdom I might gain is counter-productive (I still do it, but I’m working on that). We might feel we deserve the misery, but I think there’s enough of that around; no need to spit in the ocean, it’s wet enough already.

Watch out for our expectations of self.

Here’s the big obstacle—sometimes I draw and quarter myself over something, not because of any real damage, but because I let myself down. I thought I was better than this! Self-critical thinking can be a real quicksand pit, one we might even feel we deserve to sink to the bottom of.

Admit, apologize, correct.

This is the strategy my mom taught me ages ago for when I mess up: go to the folks it affected, admit what I did, apologize for it, and then work on repairs. It’s a balanced strategy which resists any unskillful reactions. What I like most is that it’s a basic step-by-step guide to follow, and it works! Moms are cool, man.

Finally, let go.

So you know what you did and you’ve faced into the wind and accepted it and its consequences. You’ve owned up to it, said you were very sorry, and done what you can to make things better. You’ve learned a valuable lesson (somewhere in there), and you’ve resolved to do better going forward. Now: for the love of all that’s healthy and sane, let it go!

Write it all down on a piece of paper and burn it.

Write it on a balloon and let it go (or pop it). Journal it. Get it out of you, whether through ritual or however you choose. You can even sing along with Elsa while you let it go. Now you can move on from here, free from the anchors and entanglements of a rough moment or experience.

And please remind me of all this stuff next time I mess up. I believe that’s scheduled for next Tuesday.


Photo: Pixabay


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