How to Take Responsibility for Mistakes, without the beat up

Have you even broken something that was really special to you, or someone else? Forgotten to take care of an important task? Have you ever lost it on someone and realized the consequences of your actions?

About 30 minutes ago I was irritated and flustered. I was washing dishes, and placed the top of my vitamix on the dish rack. I didn’t take the time to make sure it was balanced, and it came crashing down. I could see a large chunk of the bottom fly across my kitchen. I felt like crying and punching something, at the same time. I love this vitamix. It was very expensive. I jokingly call it my “kitchen boyfriend”. It was a splurge that I treasure, yet I was careless with it.  I quickly heard the voice of the critic telling me how irresponsible I am, how I rush and do a bad job at things. Then the victim piped in with all of the projections of what her husband would say to her (which he didn’t say at all!).

I breathed. Let the fuming rise. The self blame came to the surface. I slowed down. I stayed present with the entire experience, not diving in to a justifying conversation with the inner critic, or sitting with the victim who was looking for something or someone else to blame. I often think of the advice I give my clients in these moments. I was doing too much. I was rushing.

In my practice, women are often afraid to be kind to themselves when they slip up, because they think they are letting themselves off the hook. They fear that being kind to themselves will make them less competent, less responsible and weak. Sound familiar?

The truth is, human beings learn best with kindness and positive reinforcement. Most of us never learned how to take responsibility for our actions without guilt, blame or shame. When we beat ourselves up, our cortisol levels increase. We enter the familiar fight/flight/freeze zone and our ability to learn is dramatically reduced.  Our highly evolved pre-frontal cortex, which is capable of creative, rational thought, moves over to make room for our primal survival brain. This is not the best place to learn from our mistakes. We tend to over-react and try to make the situation (and the bad feelings), go away as quickly as possible.

So how do we go about lowering our stress reaction to a mistake, so we can respond with greater kindness and effectiveness?

Here are a few self-talk statements & strategies that help “ease up on the beat up”, while learning from our mistakes:

  • I made a bad choice. I made a mistake, but I am not bad person
  • Everyone experiences this sometimes. I am not the first person to do this.
  • I am allowed to be human
  • This is a small blip in my life. I am very capable, loving, kind etc.
  • I am good at taking ownership for my mistakes. I can learn from this.
  • How would I speak to a friend who made this same mistake?
  • I can ask others to support me, instead of judging me
  • What small change can I make, to grow through this mistake?
  • Don’t try to fix it right away. You are likely too frazzled and guilty to take thoughtful action. It’s ok to let the intensity of the moment pass.
  • It’s ok to be a work in progress. I can be patient with myself as I learn.
  • Validate your feelings and be understanding of yourself, in the same way you would a precious child,  “I see that I am feeling angry at myself for what happened. Everyone feels this way sometimes. “
  • Look at the big picture of the challenging situation you were in . “You got really angry at your child, it’s hard to parent sometimes.” or “It would be hard for anyone to respond differently in this situation.”
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Ask yourself “was this mistake a result of me taking on too much or expecting too much from myself?

If you struggle with self-blame or guilt, there’s lots that can be done to help you lead a more peaceful life. Practice helps us respond to mistakes differently. You can become a better parent to yourself over time, and you will find that you cope better with life’s challenges. Most people find they have more energy & are better able to step out of their comfort zone to have the life they want. Print this list, and add some of your own.


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