The theme of mistakes often figures in the stories people bring to counselling. These might be choices we have made in the past which have left us feeling guilty or ashamed. Often, it is our response to previous mistakes that is causing us more harm than the actual mistake itself. How can counselling and psychotherapy help?
We all make mistakes in our lives: decisions that we later come to regret (sometimes bitterly), chances we have missed, wrong turns and behaviour that has done harm to others in some way. If we are lucky, we might have the chance to make amends and repair what went wrong. And sometimes what has happened will be irreparable.
Mistakes In Context
How the people in our family of origin viewed mistakes can often have a strong bearing on what our previous choices mean to us and hence how we might respond to them emotionally. For instance, as children we may have received messages that mistakes:
- are to be avoided at all costs
- are an indication as to whether or not we are a ‘good’ person
- define who we are forever
- can be handed down through the generations
- help us to learn
- are a normal consequence of courage or risk-taking
- are only a problem if we are unable to learn from them
- are shameful
- will be punished
- are catastrophic
- must be kept hidden
- are better out in the open
- must be dealt with alone
- can be shared and support will be offered
If we grew up in a household where mistakes were tolerated or in some situations even encouraged we might have a very different response to our own poor decisions compared to someone for whom getting it wrong meant secrecy, abandonment and shame.
Common Life Consequences
Major mistakes from our past can over-shadow how we live our lives today. Feelings of guilt and shame might create distance between ourselves and those we love. Also, we might have concluded that we are somehow not worthy of others’ attention or friendship and keep ourselves isolated. Perhaps we freeze when it comes to making important decisions in our lives for fear of making further mistakes. Maybe the burden of keeping a mistake secret is wearing us down to the point where we can no longer face the future with courage and excitement.
How Counselling and Psychotherapy Can Help
Talking about past mistakes in a safe and supportive space can help us start to see them within context. Perhaps we made these particular mistakes when we were young, angry or grieving. Maybe we are assuming that keeping them hidden is the only way of dealing with them or that if we share them we would be humiliated or rejected (which might have been very real possibilities in some families). Perhaps we are anxious about becoming ‘just like uncle so-and-so’ who had come to a bad end. Or, as is often the case, maybe we are taking more responsibility for things having gone wrong than might be reasonably expected. These are the kind of fears that can be explored with a skilled and trusted therapist who is able to welcome the often strong feelings associated with mistakes and think with us about how we might respond differently.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation. Emailing in the first instance seems to work best.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove, Sussex.
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