As I was puttering about the house this morning I heard a crash outside. My neighbor’s teenage son had accidentally backed his own car into his brother’s car, scraping the side and ripping off the fender along the way. As he paced alongside the damaged vehicle, he repeatedly muttered, “It was so stupid…I was so stupid.” Sure, no one would argue that backing into a parked car in your own driveway could ever be classified as an intelligent act, but why do we so often beat ourselves up at every failing? Does self-condemnation need to be the immediate response to our every mistake? When is self criticism useful and when is it harmful?
Self criticism can add a debilitating burden to an already unpleasant situation. If we intensely criticize ourselves for our every mistake, instead of learning through wise reflection, we might take one of the more extreme stances—either 1) disempower ourselves and become afraid to act, or 2) assume a posture of false superiority and not recognize or learn from our errors.
No doubt we will all make some mistakes this week, large or small, public or private. Perhaps if we paused for a moment, felt three breaths, noticed any tendency to punish ourselves with self-judgement, and then felt three more breaths, we might weaken the tendency to demand perfection or fear failure in ourselves.
We all muddle through our days, learning and living as best as we can, and making an embarrassing amount of mistakes along the way. Can we accept that inevitability and forgive yourself and others for the “stupid” things that we do when we are distracted, rushed, or generally unmindful?