We're not our mistakes and we’re not defined by our past

Mistakes don't define us

There have been many times throughout my life when I’ve wished for a do-over, a chance to do something differently. Many unskilled or mean comments, foolish actions,and blunders are left in the wake of my living.

In the past, my Committee of Internal Critics held high-court in my mind when I blundered. I couldn’t think of anything else. No one could’ve been as hard on me as I was on myself. The hamster-wheel of horrible thoughts only made the situation worse, as my body, mind, and emotions turned into an internal battlefield.

While I’m grateful Facebook and Twitter weren’t around in my youth, my internal critics did a fine job of keeping a vivid record for many years. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I’d screwed up. My internal committee had the cruelest panel of judges you could imagine.

I endured many days and nights of self-torture, self-chastising, worrying and wishing to turn back time and do things differently. Sometimes shame immobilized me, causing me to withdraw in pain and build walls of armour cutting me off from others.

Sadly, I know this is an all-to-frequent feature of the human condition.

Mistakes are simply that, mis-takes. They’re times we’ve tried and it hasn’t worked out so well. Too often we hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard of perfection that, in reality, is only possible in myth.

I’d never be as unkind and mean to others as I was to myself. My negative self-talk was deplorable and it didn’t help me see clearly. I certainly didn’t cut myself any slack. Back then, I didn’t know I wasn’t my past and I wasn’t my mistakes. Each and every moment is a new moment, a chance to begin again.

I’ve worked with people who’ve carried self-judgment and shame from youthful blunders into their senior years—beautiful, good, kind people mortified and still paying an internal price for past mistakes.This only limits us from showing up in a better way today.

When we know better, we do better. But, how do we start to move past the memory of mistakes when the mind is so tenacious? It helps to begin with compassion and self-forgiveness. What would we say to someone we love who made the same mistake?

We can demonstrate kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to others, but this same charity has to begin at home. In the light of failures and mistakes, holding ourselves with compassion is often the most challenging practice a person can undertake, yet it helps us drop the armour of blame and judgement, and see more clearly what must be done to make things better.

As we turn toward ourselves with an attitude of self-forgiveness and compassion, we can make amends where we need to, and free ourselves from the tethers of the past. We can learn what needs to be learned and move on.

When we know better, we do better.

Holding our bruised egos, regret and pain as tenderly as we would cradle a precious infant, leads us to healing and change more powerfully than engaging in brutal self-judgment. We are able to make desired changes much more easily when we are gentle, patient and kind with ourselves, when we treat ourselves with compassion and self-forgiveness.

We have more life energy and joy to share with the world as we shed the burden of our mistakes. Self-forgiveness and self-compassion are unheard of for many, but these practices benefit our mental, emotional, and physical health. They open us to living life more freely.

Compassion is a powerful practice being studied at Stanford University, and the findings are anything but soft.

Research reveals practicing compassion:

• Lowers levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and body pain.

• improves immunity and resilience

• Improves mental health

• Reduces burnout

We are not our mistakes, but we can learn from them.

We are always at a new moment to choose again. As we hold ourselves in compassion and forgiveness, we release the tethers of the past and open to the new potential of today.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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