Mistakes Are a Good Thing
The biggest way we harm children as they learn and grow is through the teaching of perfectionism. When we grow up with the idea that we are meant to be perfect, we inevitably feel flawed and defective whenever we make a mistake. We begin to internalize our mistakes until we feel that we are a mistake. When we feel this way we begin to find ways to alter our moods and feelings because it hurts too much to acknowledge that sense of failure.
All too often, we can have a very judgmental voice in our head that constantly reminds us we are not good enough. This barrage of self criticism can do irreparable harm. Eventually we have to find a way to not feel the feelings anymore. This often becomes the basis for substance abuse and “acting out.” In other words, it becomes so painful to be who we believe we are that we need to escape from ourselves. Self medication via alcohol and other drugs can be the vehicle that takes us away from our true selves.
We need to flip this idea on its head; mistakes need to be understood as a good thing. By making mistakes, we have a real chance to grow and learn. If we grow up in a safe environment where it’s okay to make mistakes, we learn it is okay to be vulnerable. We are more able to see the world as it truly is and live more authentically. That is how we are meant to be.
Think about when we were all very young. When we had a feeling we instinctively felt the feeling and expressed it. We did this for a time until someone in our lives taught us not to. Along the path of growing up we begin to learn how some feelings are okay and others are not. Where do we learn this? From our most beloved caretakers. From the most important people in our world. So, without question, we believe what they tell us. It is a learned behavior to stop feeling our feelings. Unfortunately, the eventual outcome is that we no longer express feelings. That is where the pain lives and grows within us. Eventually, if a child is continually shamed into feeling that what they do is not acceptable, then they begin to believe that they themselves are not acceptable.
We need to create a family environment where it is completely okay to be real. A great saying I heard once was “the only thing you don’t have to work at is being yourself.” What a glorious way to live. How many of us actually do though? If we were taught that mistakes are not okay then we begin to create a persona that we are more than human. The reality is, none of us are.
I know in my life I have been very guilty of acting as if I am more than human. I have acted out with righteousness, arrogance, blaming, criticism and rage. I’m sure it was hard to be close to me because I wasn’t close to me. I know now that much of this came out of a background where mistakes were hidden. My mistakes were kept secret and my secrets became my shame. So I learned that instead of accepting my flaws, I acted flawless. But that’s the problem – it wasn’t real, it was an act. Anytime anyone in your life acts as if they have all the answers you can bet they are in the middle of an act. That act is established to hide the fact that they are struggling with something. When their critical judgements, their righteousness, their anger come pouring out all over us, in that moment we need to be conscious of the fact that it’s just a projection of what is going on within them. It has nothing to do with us. That is why as we get older it is vital that we seek connection towards those who show us love, compassion, forgiveness and empathy. To be with a loved one who can see beyond your mistakes to the beauty that you truly are can be incredibly healing and liberating. But we first need to be that for ourselves.
I recently had an experience with a teenage boy who came up to me after a two day retreat I was doing on empowerment. He said, “I want to thank you for helping me see who I truly am.” As he spoke these words he started to tear up. He continued, “I have always struggled with low self esteem and I have been in and out of foster care for most of my life and so many of the people who were assigned to care for me actually abused me. I began to believe that I must not be a good person. But in the last two days you’ve confounded those beliefs I have about myself and maybe just maybe I am a good person.”
As he said that last line, the tears were streaming down his face. I grabbed him and gave him a hug and then said, “The fact that you can come up to me and tell me that shows me without a doubt that you are in touch with something deeper within you. You are in touch with the REAL you. You are so compassionate and caring and from watching you interact these last two days I can say without a doubt that you are GOOD! I’m am so sorry for what you’ve been through in your life but from this day forward you need to know that you are not the projection of the people in your life that abused you. That is their pain and hurt coming out. That is their insecurity and anger. Leave it with them. Do not take it into your heart and soul. Don’t let anyone do that to you. These last few days you have met and connected with a group of people who truly see you and care for you. Stay connected to to these people and they will lift you up.”