How many people can say that they are self-forgiving and self-appreciative? In my counseling practice, I often encounter an ingrained, often unconscious, perfectionism and intolerance for making mistakes. What happens when my clients cannot live up to the expectations of their family, friends, or their own? Usually the feelings of shame, inadequacy or self-doubt creep in. The perfectionism may have been imposed by the clients’ family, culture, or it could be their own ambition and drive to succeed and be something—often an unrealistic standard set in their mind.
The obvious fact that all learning and accomplishments come from efforts and mistakes has little bearing on the internal demand to be perfect. The same principle applies to parenting: children learn from mistakes, but usually they are punished or have punitive consequences for having done something wrong, rather than learning from and correcting their mistakes in an atmosphere of respect and kindness. This often sets up an unrealistic drive to either be perfect without failing, or shame and low self-esteem for being “bad.”
Some of my clients feel that it is not worth even trying to express themselves, if they cannot be perfect—an internal belief, which leads to depression and self-depreciation. Others are overwhelmed by the feelings of inadequacy and shame when facing their shortcomings or mistakes, and prefer to ignore them by disconnecting from their feelings. I am inviting my clients to try a new approach. Admitting one’s mistake without self-blame, and guilt is a first step, followed by the permission to try and make efforts, while having confidence that one is able to resolve and change anything from a relationship to a behavior pattern.
When one is learning to play piano, for example, mastery comes from the endless repetitions of exercises and musical pieces. If one writes a story, he or she simply improves and re-writes the parts which feel imperfect until they are better. Making mistakes is a life drill, we need to take with consciousness, heart and self-forgiveness, which will lead to a positive resolution and growth. I invite each person to have faith in their goodness and ability to change creatively. Forgivness is not permissiveness or justification of mistakes, rather it is a positive regard for oneself and an invitaiton to learn and grow and to be human.