Making Mistakes and Learning

I abhor making mistakes. When I do, when I respond to someone in a way that’s not in line with how I want to act, when I snap at someone, when I don’t achieve as much in a day as I wanted to – I take it as a personal failure and have a hard time not beating myself up over it.

Very recently I made a rather large mistake. I have a beautiful healthy polyamorous relationship with a man. We respect each others’ boundaries, and as we’re both quite spiky those boundaries can be rather high. This works so well for us, though, and provides the freedom we need.

I did a cringeworthy thing that is uncomfortable to even write about, as I was in a situation where I pressured him to make a decision, the decision that *I* wanted him to make. I took it way too far, had the gall to get annoyed at him for sticking to his autonomous choice, and parted ways feeling upset at him – which almost immediately turned into embarrassed horror as I realized what I’d done.

The awful thing about what I did was that I tried to take away his autonomy. I did not respect his decisions, and even got a bit coercive in trying to make him do what I selfishly wanted. This is, in its own way, a betrayal of the trust that we have in each other. It was also a betrayal of myself and what I believe in.

I was a little drunk, and recently have been feeling out of control of my life, and I don’t use these factors to excuse my actions but perhaps to help understand why I did what I did.

Also, I’d like to explain briefly why exactly I was so mortified at what I did. I grew up in an emotionally repressed Midwestern family with a mother who was at turns narcissistic, neurotic, passive-aggressive, and manipulative.  I grew up with this kind of behavior as my role model, and the amount of misery being subjected to these unhealthy traits caused me was enough to make me vow to never consciously act like that to anyone else. I’ve spent my adult life trying to get rid of the habits that were ingrained in me as normal as a child, and over the past few years I’ve come a long way in being able to communicate better, be more open and empathetic to people, and create healthy connections and bonds with others.

And then I do this thing I vowed I’d never do to someone who’s only ever shown me respect and trust and the healthiest kind of autonomy support. So. A LOT of mortification. I considered buying a one-way ticket to Bolivia or trying to invent a time machine. I don’t want your pity here, because this is a thing that I did and I fucked up and I take responsibility for that. But this is how I felt, at the time.

And the boy and I have had a talk and it will be ok though there is still a small void of disappointment where previously there was only respect and trust and I will work to refill that void and life moves on and this was not a huge thing; I didn’t lie to him or abuse him, but acted in a manner inconsistent with my values and his.

But there it is, still, like a sore in my mind I can’t stop prodding. The thing is, everyone makes mistakes. No one is a perfect person. We all fall down, or have a bad day.  Some mistakes are worse than others. Some have no consequences, and some have severe repercussions. Because something wasn’t intentional doesn’t make you blameless. I think where we have the choice is how we respond to our mistake.

There is always the option of denial/passing the blame to someone else. This is perhaps tempting, but unhealthy and toxic. People see through this. It doesn’t take long to identify the people who can’t acknowledge their own failures. I would not recommend taking this route. Everyone around you knows what you’re doing, even if you don’t.

Instead, I think it’s important to take responsibility for what we’ve done. It’s only by doing this that we can learn from our error and hopefully not repeat it. Why did we do this thing? How can we prevent it in the future? Looking ourselves squarely in the face and saying that we done fucked up is SO HARD. It hurts. It hurts to acknowledge that we’re not always awesome all of the time. What does make us awesome? Learning. Growing. And also, being supportive of yourself.

This last one is new to me. This is what I’m still learning: making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad person.  Making a mistake means you’re human, and you now have the opportunity to grow from the experience. But supporting yourself along that process, and finding that balance of “Oh god, let’s NEVER do that again,” combined with, “You are still a worthy person who deserves respect,” is important. Low self-esteem isn’t healthy or great for self-development either.