June 09, 2008

On Making Mistakes

L'Innocence by Adolphe-William Bouguereau

A few decades ago, my precocious daughter said something we’ve laughed about for years. She was playing in grandpa’s workshop when one of Dad’s friends jokingly said to her, "Hello, little boy!”

She stared him in the eyeball, making sure she had his full attention and said, “I’m not a boy!”

“Sorry about that!” he teased, chuckling to himself. “Guess I made a mistake.”
“That was not a mistake, mister!” she retorted, “That was a lesson.”

Were you recently conned by a person you trusted? Did someone told you to “Fluck off!” when you thought your respect was reciprocal? Maybe your innocence & trust were not rewarded with fidelity. Maybe you were cheated on, deceived and abandoned without warning. Maybe you had faith in a silver-tongued Guru only to discover she’s a ScrewU selling happiness as something she has & you don’t. A little cash, a chunk of your integrity and she’ll spread the joy just ‘cuz she loves you so very, very much.

Maybe you joined a vitamin program sounding like a dream come true: “Order now! We CARE about YOUR health, WEALTH, and HAPPINESS.” Two hundred bucks later, you’re left with a bitter taste in your mouth; the same bald spot you started with; cellulite looking gorgeous compared to your pitted self-esteem; depression because a ScrewU’s claims of perpetual happiness were fraudulent. (Maybe she shared her Secret for a price, but she’ll never share the results of her psychological diagnosis no matter what you’re willing to pay.)

At some point in our lives, we’ll place unrealistic hope in a hopeless scam. We will. When we discover we were conned, manipulated, & duped, the reality of what happened chips at our self-esteem, forcing us to question our culpability and fear our vulnerability.

As an older woman, I have to say that maturation is an endless series of mistake making: trusting the untrustworthy, loving the unlovable, believing the unbelievable, and trying our best to control the uncontrollable.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of about that. But we are. We’re so ashamed we don’t want to tell anyone; we fear social judgment for having been foolish. We dread isolation from family, friends and yes, the social support we desperately need. Of course we don’t want to talk about what happened. It’s not an irrational response. Even well-meaning friends unconsciously protect themselves by thinking (and sometimes saying), “What’d ya do wrong?”

Our perceptions were valid, after all.

People avoid identification with us because it threatens their sense of safety. It threatens their assumptions of a Just World based on cause and consequence, giving meaning to everyone’s choices because of reasonably predictable outcomes. Listen, I’m partial to the just world hypothesis, too; but my partiality doesn’t make it valid. How do I know that?

‘Cuz good people are taken advantage of everyday, having done nothing to merit the consequences.

If there were no predators, no manipulators, no coN artists, and no pathologically selfish people in our world, then maybe a Just World Hypothesis would be credible. But that isn’t our reality. We must accept our responsibility to create the Just World ourselves. This requires active involvement by conscientious people limiting the conscience-less who refuse to restrict themselves because as long as we do nothing, they can do everything.

Stand up for what you know to be right. Bless your many virtues one-by-one and never sully innocence as a defect of character, nor demean your highest virtues as lowly crimes.

"To err is human, which means never erring is a red-flag herring." (You can quote me on that since you might get sued if you attribute it to a bona fide author.)

I won’t minimize the challenge it is trusting our selves again, though it's an even more daunting challenge trusting others. Our willingness to wrestle with the demons of distrust builds character strength and plants hardy seeds for spiritual growth.

So don’t resist this painful struggle by saying, “Mistakes were made but NOT by me.”

It’s not a mistake, after all. It's a lesson.

Hugs to all my fellow mistake-makers!

Tavris, Carol & Aronson, Elliot. Mistakes were Made but Not By Me


  1. Loving the mix on this one. Its a great wrap..i could hear the music as I read it.

    I can recall a time...back when I was painting in my home town before I moved away to go to college. I was incredibly upset with from yet another personality disordered person. I remember going off about how their was no Santa Clause.

    This entry reminds me of my rant back then. I didn't solve the lump of glue in my psyche yet. I had to revisit that same scenario about 3 more times in order to loosen and dissolve. It was an off and on sort of deal, not a steady full-time karmic position such as a marriage to one narc. I would have to say about 30% of the people I have befriended were narcs.

    I'll tell ya one thing...I stuck to that which called me. that is precisely what it was...a call for me to meet me. All of me. That is what it was the whole time.

    Peace and Many Thanks for the Tunage. It is a delight to read a dancing feast.

    Anonymous eyes

  2. Love the lesson, let go of the mistake -- once I've owned up to it that is! Yup -- very good one CZ -- and so true!

    I've made many mistakes. Not always learned the lesson until the mistake became so blessedly evident that even I in my starry-eyed wonder could not deny that once upon a time had turned into a seething mass of here and now evidence rotting right before my eyes. It's persistent whine slamming into my face beggin' me to answer. 'whatcha' gonna do for an encore little girl'?

    Fortunately, some mistakes do not deserve an encore. Me, on the other hand, I always deserve to stand up for myself, to turn up for me and treat myself with love and respect, dignity and grace.

    And when I've acknowledged my mistake I get to applaud my courage by saying, NEXT!



  3. I have a tough time with the shame. Logically, I know I *shouldn't* feel ashamed, and yet I do.

    And I have not reached out for support from some people who would probably give it to me.

    I left the family religion and I fear that everything bad that happens to me is a case study in "what happens when you leave the church", while the bad stuff that happens to them is a test of their faith. I really don't need more shame on top of what I've got.

    I'm thinking mistakes happen, learning from them is optional. I'm trying.

  4. So when I do not see my experiences as lessons I make yet another mistake. Things could really pile up if I don't start to see my lessons. I'm thinking this is when curiosity comes into play rather than blame.

    Seems to me that not learning is more painful than learning.

    “What’d ya do wrong?”...It is hard to say what I did wrong when it is a lesson. I suppose I would have to learn about my actions and figure out why they didn't bear the fruit intended.

    I learned a lot from a story I read by Herman Hesse. It is titled "conversation with a chair".

    A man decides to become a painter. He picks a subject, an object to paint. It is a chair. while he is painting he talks to the chair. He is having a difficult time creating a representation of the chair. essentially he continues to get angrier and angrier at the chair because his painting doesn't look like the chair. The chair begins to talk back then the man starts to fight with the chair...he ends up kicking the chair and quitting to become a writer.

    What I didn't know back in my twenties was about projection and this story, with out knowing the word, taught about projection.

    so essentially the man blames the chair for the fact that his painting didn't resemble the chair.

    He struggled with continuous comments on how the chair should change there fore he would then get it right.

    good story.

    Now discovering my own projections is an enormous step.

    anonymous eyes

  5. “I have a tough time with the shame. Logically, I know I *shouldn't* feel ashamed, and yet I do.” ~jennie

    Understanding shame is a task of intellect and reason; but transforming shame from worthlessness to worthiness, is an experiential journey of the heart.

    Abuse of any kind, teaches us over and over that we lack value. That there is something inherently flawed in who we are. That we are ‘less than’ which means of course, abusive people maintain dominance as long as we are submissive to our feelings of shame, guilt and fear. Shame knocks a girl to her knees. Guess that’s why it’s a favored technique for abusers to keep her in her place.

    This is why it’s so important to break our silence by testing whether or not we are defective. But choose your friends carefully. If they have never faced the isolating fear resulting from Shame-Flamers, they cannot understand our process. Rather than affirm our self-worth, "Shamers" judge, alienate and humiliate us as being different from them, and thus: ‘wrong’.

    One thing I wanted to say is that the most valuable gift we receive from a support group is mutual acceptance. We tell our dark secrets, listen to others reveal their own secrets and before we know it, everyone is relieved to discover they are not so ‘different’ after all.

    This re-connecting ‘experience’ is ineffable, though. We can try to describe our emotional process with words, but words will always be reductive of the emotional experience.

    Which is why we can read high-brow dissertations but our sense of shame remains as entrenched as ever. Our head ‘gets it’ but our heart has yet to be changed.

    Change can happen in a flash, too. Insight is like that sometimes. Suddenly, shame dissipates and we look in the mirror and say, “You ARE a WoNderful woman of worth. That rat-bazturd oughta be ashamed of himself!”

    But of course, he’s not. That’s why he throws his shame our direction.

    Don’t pick up anyone’s projected shame. Whether they say they love you or not, love does not alienate, condemn, humiliate, control or silence people into submission.


  6. Thank you for your kind words CZ. Yes, the intellectual understanding of shame dynamics certainly helps, but it is through the heart that healing comes.

    Your warning about selecting who is safe to share with it true. Otherwise, another wound is added to the existing one.

    I do find that as I affirm to others that the shame is not theirs, my own heart heals a bit.


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