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How to Be Kind to Yourself When You make a Mistake

Let’s face it- we all make mistakes! We humans are imperfect beings at best and so we make mistakes. Sometimes big ones, sometimes mistakes when we hurt someone because we were careless, but often just small miscalculations that really don’t harm anyone. I’m wondering though, do you give yourself a hard time for your mistakes? Do you tend to beat yourself up even if it is a harmless one?

What This Can Do to You

The effects that this can have on your self-confidence and your self-esteem can be really harmful. Often, we do it because we believe it will help us to reach our goals, or it will help us to become a better person. We call ourselves lazy or stupid thinking this will improve our performance. However, studies show that this type of behavior will decrease our performance and decrease our motivation. It can be demoralizing and lead to depression and anxiety. I mean, just think about it, do you feel like trying new things or attempting something hard if you’re feeling bad about yourself? Probably not. You’re more apt to do these types of things if you’re feeling good about yourself. That’s when you feel motivated and energized.

Why do we Beat Ourselves Up

So why do we beat ourselves up when we make a mistake? Generally, we don’t do this to other people. We don’t yell at them or call them names when they mess up. We usually approach them with compassion and kindness. Yet routinely we allow our inner critic to put us down and make us feel terrible about our mistakes, and ultimately about ourselves.

Well, the surprising answer is that this is probably some old system put into place by evolution to protect us. Way back in the time of our ancestors, making a mistake was a serious thing. More often than not, it could literally be a matter of life or death. Because of this, a mistake is seen as dangerous and a threat, and it triggers the fight or flight (or freeze) response to protect us from danger. To try and protect us, our flight or fight response will try to use self-criticism to motivate us to do better. Hey, nobody said it was a smart system! Remember, it's part of our primitive brain and not logical in the least.

What to Do Instead of Criticizing Yourself

There are a few different strategies you can try to help you break this bad habit.

1. Recognize and acknowledge what happened. It never helps to try and ignore things that happen, so acknowledge it at least to yourself when you've made a mistake.

2. Emphasize with yourself. Accept what happened without blaming or accusing yourself. It was a mistake. That pretty much means that you didn’t mean to do it. A good way to do this is to think about what you would say to your mother or your best friend if they had done something similar. Would you be harsh with them? Or would you be kind? We need to start treating ourselves with the same kindness and compassion.

3. Examine what happened. If you can figure out where things went wrong, then you can try and fix it so it doesn’t happen again. A mistake can be a learning opportunity if we let it. Again, this isn’t to assign blame to yourself or someone else, it is simply to figure out what happened so it can be done better next time. No one wants to make the same mistakes over and over again!

4. Make amends. This isn’t necessarily about apologizing, though apologizing might play a part. It’s more about trying to set things right. It means taking action to show the people most affected by your mistake that you want to make up for it. So, if you’ve broken your mother’s favorite vase, in addition to apologizing, you offer to buy a new one. This can also include making amends to yourself and can include things like taking steps to ensure you don’t make the same mistake again.

Closing Thoughts

We didn’t start treating ourselves badly overnight. It took time, probably years to build up to the way things are now, so don’t expect everything to get better overnight. It will take you trying repeatedly over time to learn and establish new habits and new patterns of behavior. Be kind to yourself as you go through this journey.

If you’d like to talk with me further about this, or if you’d like to inquire about self-esteem counseling, please follow the link!



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