Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Afraid to make a mistake?

     Ah! The world will come to an end if you do! That's the way I used to think anyway. Not anymore. Funny, yesterday I touched on mistakes and then last night I came across all this stuff about mistakes. So, being an expert on this subjekt (yes, I made a MISTAKE),  here goes.
      A fear of making mistakes as an adult is a carryover from childhood.
      When I was in kindergarten I used to play my butt off. The monkey bars, the slide, whatever. Kindergarten was a ball. (School got harder after that.) But yeah, I loved to play.
     Well, one day they had the class photo scheduled and my Mom had me get dressed up, including my "good" pants. (A black and white hounds-tooth wool--very uncomfortable--pair of dress slacks.) Well, okay, I was five. I had to go along with the program. But before I left that day my mother warned me not to get a hole in my good pants.
     Now, that in and of itself would be no big deal. In fact, it would be appropriate. But, in this case there was a lot more behind what lay on the surface. See, my mother would always threaten to withdraw her love if I didn't obey her. (Or didn't obey her enough.)
      So, flashback to kindergarten. Out at recess playing with the other kids. And guess what happened? Yep, I put a hole in my good pants. Right on the knee. And my knee was okay, but my psyche was not.
      I trembled to think that my mother would completely withdraw her love from me. I was wrecked. And I was five! And you know what, I never went home that day. I really can't remember just what I did. (I have a sense that I hid somewhere in one of the classrooms under some wood blocks.) But my parents had to come looking for me when I didn't come home. And all that over a hole in a pair of pants.
      It was that sort of thing that led to my intense dread of making mistakes. I'm much better now, but it's still lurking in there. In that five-year-old that is still a part of who I am.
     And you can get hooked in that sense if you disappoint someone you will lose their love. You can get hooked on the sense that you deserve to suffer.
      From a book called Necessary Losses by Judith Vorst:

It was Sigmund Freud who first observed that analysts sometimes work with patients who ferociously resist relief from their symptoms, who seem to hold on for dear life to emotional pain, and who cling to this pain because it gives them the punishment that they don't even know they want for crimes they don't even know that they have committed. He notes ruefully, however, that a neurosis which has defied an analyst's best efforts may suddenly vanish if the patient gets into an unhappy marriage, loses all his money or becomes dangerously ill. "In such instances," writes Freud, "one form of suffering has been replaced by another; and we see that all that mattered was that it should be possible to maintain a certain amount of suffering."

     That's what it's like sometimes. You feel this intense fear, or this intense shame, and you don't even know why. In particularly lucid and self-aware moments I can see that it is the child part of my personality that still holds on to the mindset that produces such feelings.
     But as an adult I can, and do, counter such feelings. I can even celebrate and laugh at my mistakes now. And a very key aspect of that ability is giving myself the PERMISSION, that I never got from my mother, to make mistakes. Yep, these days I enjoy my mistakes.

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