Dingo chewed quietly and softly at a pair of soft slippers he found below the bed. He was enjoying this peace and quiet on his own in the living room behind the couch. The television was on and his guardian was glued to the screen the last time he checked. He enjoyed chewing his newly found slippers. Suddenly, he heard a yell behind him, “Dingo! Bad dog! Leave my slippers alone!” Dingo looked up and saw his guardian in a rage when he realised what he had done. He dropped them and ran a few metres away. He did not like to see his guardian upset, much less if it was caused by him. He was mortified. After a few minutes, he came round to see his guardian still looking at her chewed slippers and glared at him. He felt bad so he walked over and gave her a gentle nudge on her knees and a little lick as though to say, “Sorry, my bad. Please forgive me.” She reached down to stroke his head, all was forgiven and he felt better.
How do you treat yourself when you know you have done something wrong, usually unintentionally (or sometimes even intentionally with the best interest and things just did not turn out as expected)? Are you quite critical, thinking you should have known better or could have done better? Perhaps it is at work where your mistake caused a major (maybe even catastrophic) setback, like a vet drawing up the wrong disproportionate dose of a sedative agent or miscalculating the fluid rate resulting in excessive amounts being given to the patient in a short time? Maybe it is in your personal relationship where you messed up big time, causing a huge upset to your partner. Or just in daily life, taking the wrong turn, forgetting to do something important or just not being able to show up for an important event?
Do you beat yourself up? Do you think you are a failure? Many people feel the need to chastise themselves to a point of feeling really bad thinking that is the correct way to act. After all, if others see you beat yourself up so much, perhaps they will be less harsh on you, right? That may not be necessarily true.
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s meditations were filled with self-criticism and so are the writings of other Stoics. It’s important to remember, however, that that’s as far as it goes. There was no self-flagellation, paying penance, or self-esteem issues from guilt or self-loathing. You never hear them call themselves worthless pieces of crap, nor do they ever starve or cut themselves as punishment. Very simply, their self-criticism is constructive.
When and if you are feeling remorseful because of a certain action or result gotten from your actions, be sure to make the remorseful feeling ‘useful’. That feeling should serve to empower you to step into the better version of yourself, not hinder you by allowing you to think that that is who you are. Because that is simply not true. Remember that your past is not your future. Use that horrible feeling as a foothold to step into the glory of who you can be. Many make the mistake of using that same feeling as a quicksand pit and getting trapped in thinking that is their identity. Don’t make that mistake.
Know that life is always happening for you, not to you. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn. Your past is a place to learn from, not a home to live in. This is not referring to having no sense of guilt, remorse, feeling inadequate or ignoring your (natural) feelings. It is ok to feel bad, annoyed, frustrated, guilty, remorseful, etc. Just make sure you find the lesson involved (for there is always at least one!), get better for the future and basically, do not ‘waste’ that experience. As you are feeling bad already, the very least you can do is to profit from it! Self-flagellation does not help you in your growth as it turns you (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually) into a victim and you simply cannot be a victor with a victim’s mindset!
Laying into yourself, unduly depriving yourself, punishing yourself – that’s self-flagellation, not self-improvement.
When you are feeling low, remorseful and guilty, here are a few simple steps to get you out of your funk…
- Practice Gratitude. Be grateful you are in the position to make the mistake. Be grateful you are alive and full of feeling to be able to feel bad. Step into the grace of your being, possessing the vitality in you and the wonder of your life. Feeling grateful greatly helps to elevate your mood.
- Accept that in life, sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn. All failures (and bad outcomes) are temporary, merely lessons to help you grow. Embrace them and be grateful for them, not resent them. Learn how to profit from failure. This is a tough but crucial skill to learn. Like a muscle, make sure you train this mindset at every opportunity you get. It will get better and easier, I promise. When you learn how to fail successfully, you will always profit from failures.
- Understand that your past is not your future. Your past is Unalterable, there is no use in crying over spilt milk. Your present is a Choice, get your head, mind and soul clear enough to make great decisions. Your future is a Promise, the actions you take now will determine what future you have. It is not determined by the actions you have taken or the results you have gotten in the past. What you get is totally entirely up to you. Remember that when you were born, your soul is perfect and in every way deserving of all the goodness in the world. You are merely taking back what is rightfully yours (before you gave it away unwittingly), not taking more than what you were born with.
No need to be too hard on yourself. Hold yourself to a higher standard but not an impossible one. And forgive yourself if and when you slip up.
Dingo has learnt not to chew his guardian’s slippers but he did not mull about it for ages. What habits do you need to give up or adopt when you make a mistake that will empower you and not hinder you to grow?
‘Philosophy calls for simple living, but not for penance – it’s quite possible to be simple without being crude.” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 5.5