Have you ever made a mistake so big, that there just seemed no possible way to fix it?
I’m talking about the kind of mistake that eats you up inside.
The kind you’d rather simply pretend never happened.
Maybe you straight up lied to your friends about what happened, because you were so ashamed?
I don’t mean a simple human error.
I mean when you’ve hurt somebody else, or wronged someone you care deeply about. Where you’ve felt deep shame about your actions or choice.
If you haven’t had this particularly painful life experience, you are lucky.
Most of us have. I definitely have. (I’m raising my hand thinking, “Me! Me! Me. I have! I have!”)
That said, I am also living proof that mistakes are fixable (eventually).
I did something incredibly insensitive and shameful to a guy I knew in college. I’ll leave out the details because this isn’t just my story. Maybe I’ll ask for his permission when I write my memoirs, and then share all the gory details. However, I can own the fact that I was a total shit to this person. We’re not talking a criminal act here. Although if it had been the 1890’s, instead of the 1990’s, maybe it was a crime? But it was shitty regardless.
And to shield myself from the agony of shame, I did all the wrong things. I pretended it didn’t happen. Or if I had to acknowledge that it did happen (since there were other people involved/witnesses), then I decided to myself that it didn’t matter. That is was silly or stupid that he felt hurt. I minimized his feelings to avoid feeling icky myself. I even lied about what happened, even though other people were there and knew I was full of shit.
It took me many more missteps and plenty of stumbling around to learn how to best fix mistakes of my own making.
These 4 factors will give you the best chance at resolution (IMHO):
- Time. Time does heal most wounds. Feelings like anger and resentment inevitably change as time passes and our new experiences inform our perspective. I treated plenty of other men terribly after college. I lied, I cheated, I didn’t communicate effectively – all because I wanted to avoid conflict and lived in fear of disappointing others. Ultimately I caused MORE conflict and MORE disappointment with my actions. Go figure. But I had to experience all of that discomfort in real time to crystalize my true values and my true needs. i’d be missing wisdom and empathy if I hadn’t gone through this. I also got “ghosted” by a couple of guys who seemed super into me. This was before “ghosting” had a name, OR was a thing. Being blindsided in this way, well, it hurt. A Lot. My ego and my heart were bruised. Again, I had to go through that pain to empathize with others’ pain and to fully understand how much my actions were hurting other people. And resolve to do better. FYI – during this time of learning and reflection on my part, the guy from college was busy not speaking to me for 10 years.
- Make amends: Own it and apologize. If you’ve wronged someone, it’s on you to pro-actively reach out and extend the olive branch. It might take you years to get up the courage, but it will feel empowering to show vulnerability and humility, when you finally do. And most importantly – say sorry without making excuses for the behavior. No one wants to hear your explanation or rationalization of why you did it. Simply say you are sorry for acting like an a-hole and for hurting them. I did A LOT of this.
- A willingness to forgive. This is on the other person. They have to be at a time and place where they are ready to forgive. They have to allow in some vulnerability too. This too, like apologizing, is freeing. Because when we refuse to forgive, feelings of resentment harden our hearts and close us off to future experiences of love and connection. It’s poisonous. I love this quote: “Resentment Is Like Taking Poison And Waiting For The Other Person To Die”.
- Be living proof that people can change. Be living proof that you are trustworthy. Take actions that are aligned with your integrity and word. Walk your talk. Gain their trust back. When I reconnected with the guy from college, I went after him with apologies and amends and also, crazily enough, an ardor and love I’d never felt before. I was all in, and determined to lock him down. I had kissed a lot of frogs, and here was a prince. I couldn’t have seen or known this 15 years ago, but I knew it now. I worked hard to tell the truth, even when it was hard. To over-communicate when I wanted avoid. To be vulnerable when I wanted to retreat and isolate. I stayed in my integrity through the uncertainty and discomfort of being in a healthy, honest relationship – maybe for the first time in my life.
And not only did that guy from college forgive me 15 years later, but HE MARRIED ME!
“Forever doesn’t mean forever. It just means maybe some other time or place” – World Party.
Most mistakes are fixable if you work hard enough & are purposeful in your actions. Is there anyone you might forgive? Or if you have wronged someone, are you feeling strong enough and ready enough to apologize for it? How can you resolve a mistake of your own making today?