Usually when I make a mistake, no matter how big or small it may be, intense feelings of shame and anxiety fill my mind.
Nobody is perfect
I’m sure most of us have heard the phrase, “Don’t worry about it, it was just a mistake.” For some people, this advice is helpful. But there are some people, myself included, that dwell on mistakes and allow them to rule our lives.
Usually when I make a mistake, no matter how big or small it may be, intense feelings of shame and anxiety fill my mind. I am left analysing every aspect of the situation in great detail; it consumes me completely. I realised that I couldn’t continue to live like this. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve worked extremely hard to develop coping strategies to help combat those negative feelings once and for all.
Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly days when I struggle to combat the intense feelings of anxiety that come with making mistakes. Nevertheless, I hope that this blog post can offer support to anybody who may struggle mentally when making mistakes – you are not alone!
I learnt that instead of aiming for ‘perfection,’ I just need to try my best in everything that I do.
Trying your best is all anyone expects
When I decided to work on my mental health in relation to making mistakes, I tried talking therapy. This enabled me to discuss how I was feeling, which immediately helped me feel mentally lighter. During my therapy, I realised that I place extremely high expectations on myself to be ‘perfect’ in everything that I do. Even just by typing that sentence, I can already spot the flaw in my thinking – nobody is ‘perfect.’
I learnt that instead of aiming for ‘perfection,’ I just need to try my best in everything that I do. Now, I’m aware that this sounds like a fairly easy strategy but putting it into practice can be challenging. Once you realise that trying your best is all that anyone expects of you, then the mental raincloud that you associate with mistakes begins to slowly fade away.
Each day, tell yourself, “I will be the best version of myself that I can be, but that doesn’t mean perfection.” To help you remember this throughout the day, you could write this sentence down, fold it up and carry it with you. It will always be there if you need a reminder.
I started to see them as stepping stones to the life that I want to live.
Learn to appreciate your mistakes
After finally letting go of the idea of ‘perfection,’ I am now learning to appreciate my mistakes. Once I recognised that mistakes are inevitable, even when I’m doing the best I can do, I started to see them as stepping stones to the life that I want to live.
You cannot learn, develop or reach your goals unless you make mistakes. Mistakes are needed in our lives. To this day, I sometimes struggle to welcome mistakes, but it’s a journey. Just remember, you are never alone and doing your best is all that anybody can expect of you.
Making mistakes gives us elasticity to bounce back when things don’t quite go how we hoped.
You're not a bad person for getting things wrong
Around the age of 14, I started to struggle with perfectionism and I didn’t have much resilience towards making mistakes. I would put high and often unachievable standards on myself, especially in academia, whereby even if I did achieve the standard I had created for myself, I would feel a brief moment of satisfaction, only to raise the standard, often quite literally to achieve ‘perfection.’
Mistakes make us stronger
Of course, it’s nice to get things right and do things well in our lives, but if we’re constantly living in fear of failure, we can become enclosed and unwilling to try new things. For example, procrastination can often happen out of a fear of getting something wrong, where we simply either don’t do something, or put off doing something.
If you can relate to this, something that helped me was to realise that to have ‘grit’ and perseverance, we must expose ourselves to the possibility of making mistakes.
While this might be uncomfortable, it is in this place where we develop characteristics that strengthen us as individuals. Making mistakes gives us elasticity to bounce back when things don’t quite go how we hoped.
It's important to recognise when we need to ask for forgiveness from others, but equally, we need to learn to forgive ourselves.
Learn to forgive yourself
You are human and you are not always going to get it right. Not just in academic terms, but also in the things we say and do. But you’re not a bad person for getting things wrong. I know that I haven’t always said the right things to people at times, and I haven’t always acted in a considerate way. However, we can’t dwell on our mistakes.
It's important to recognise when we need to ask for forgiveness from others, but equally, we need to learn to forgive ourselves. Often, that’s the hardest thing to do. You will make mistakes, but how you bounce back from them is what matters.
The fear drove me to very dark places and made me my own biggest critic.
These feelings will pass
As a complete perfectionist and someone who struggles with something known as rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), I completely understand the fear and pain around making mistakes. I have struggled with this my whole life. The fear drove me to very dark places and made me my own biggest critic. I could always give advice to others and tell them that in the grand scheme of things, mistakes are not a big deal, but could never cope with even the smallest of mistakes myself.
But slowly over the years I’ve been given advice from different, older, wiser people and developed strategies to overcome this.
Rejection sensitive dysphoria is a symptom associated with ADHD where people experience extreme emotional pain at feeling rejected, criticised or like they have failed. Although it is not officially recognised as a diagnosis in the UK, some people find the label helpful to describe their experience.
It's okay to find making mistakes difficult
What really changed the game for me was admitting that I struggled with making mistakes. It may sound obvious but for so long I was in denial. Once you recognise that making a mistake is something you are going to find emotionally difficult, at least you are prepared. I would often beat myself up that I couldn’t cope with it and that made it even worse! Lots of people struggle with this and that’s okay.
When these feelings hit, I know I am going to feel overwhelmed and upset. I sit with those feelings, however painful, and know that eventually they will pass. It’s so hard, especially if you overthink like me, but it will get less painful. Your worth and amazingness is not validated by only getting everything right.
Talking things through with someone you trust can be really helpful.
Is it really that deep?
I know how overwhelming and scary mistakes can be and how it can feel like your world is quite literally collapsing in on you. But you will be okay. Talking things through with someone you trust can be really helpful.
I also like to draw things out to express how I’m feeling in that moment. I make mind maps and other flow diagrams to compartmentalise things in my head. But the biggest bit of advice I can give is the phrase I now try to live my life by. When you are beating yourself up about a mistake, ask yourself, “Is it really that deep?”
However big it feels, which is completely valid and true, in reality nothing in life is ever really that deep. Most mistakes we make we can come back from and work around. That’s why, whenever those feelings come, I ask myself – “Is it really that deep!?”
Your worth and amazingness is not validated by only getting everything right.
More information and advice
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Where to get help
However you're feeling, there are people who can help you if you are struggling. Here are some services that can support you.
If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
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