We all make mistakes. Of course. I have made them, and so have you. And sometimes I have made my mistakes into bigger problems than they really were.
“Making a mountain out of a mole hill.”
The expression says it all. I’ve become really convinced that my mistake was a “catastrophe” or at least “really wrong”. If you ask me about how I’m feeling I say “guilty” or “disappointed” or simply “bad”. And really I’m saying “I feel shame. I feel like I’m a failure, and I’m scared that you might look down on me.”
Sound familiar? Maybe not, and that’s fantastic. But many of you may know this experience all too well. What’s tricky about it is that of course you want to “do better next time”. You “want to learn from my mistakes”. Or you “want to take responsibility for my actions.” You “ought to feel guilty, disappointed, or regret when you do something wrong”.
All these beliefs make it hard for you to realize when you’re overblowing the significance of the mistake. Some of you may have heard of the feeling of “shame” or “the inner critic” or “feeling unworthy”. There is a significant difference between feeling regret and seeing yourself as fundamentally wrong.
But like I said above, it can be difficult to distinguish the difference so here are three questions to ask yourself to see if you’re feeling genuine remorse or fundamentally wrong:
First, how do I feel? If I notice that my feelings of disappointment color everything, that nothing seems “right”, that’s feeling fundamentally wrong. And when I feel remorse, I certainly do feel sad and disappointed. I’m definitely not happy. But I am able to take my attention off of the mistake for a while. I can actually be cheered up. When I’m so despondent I can’t be reached by anyone’s encouragement or support, I’m definitely feeling worthless and not simple remorse.
Second, I ask myself “am I okay?” I don’t mean “am I going to be okay?” or a reassuring “you still have your health and life.” ”Am I okay” right here in the present moment. The specific question I use may not relate to you, but you have to be honest with yourself about whether in this moment you feel wrong, bad, like a failure, shame, or unworthy. Some other variations on this question you might find more useful: “am I acceptable?” or “am I good?” or “am I loveable?”
Third, can you see the good in what you were trying to do? Everything we do is in an attempt to fulfill our natural values or needs. If you can see what the positive values or needs you were trying to meet for yourself, then you’re feeling natural remorse. But if it seems like you had malicious intentions all along, that’s this feeling of being fundamentally wrong. Genuine remorse is not just noticing that what you tried to do failed in some way, it is also noticing what you wanted to achieve and why you thought what you did would achieve that. Genuine remorse gives you room to learn, to grow, to improve. Feeling fundamentally wrong prevents all that.
It’s important to distinguish genuine remorse from feeling fundamentally wrong. Recognizing that you’re feeling fundamentally wrong will help you realize that you’re experiencing unnecessary suffering. That you can become liberated from that suffering while still able to learn from your mistakes. Honest, compassion self-evaluation is possible. And the first step is noticing when you’re self-evaluation is skewed.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.