This post revolves around my recently noticing an increased ability to cope and deal with the emotions that arise when I realize I’ve made a mistake.
Typically, these emotions include: embarrassment, anxiety, and anger (toward myself).
The thoughts are typically along the lines of:
“I’m an idiot.
Everyone is going to think I am an idiot.
They are going to see me as incompetent.
I’ve screwed everything up.”
The physical sensations that I tend to experience when I make a mistake are: a feeling that my face is getting hot and turning red, racing heart, clenching jaw and tight muscles (especially in my neck and shoulders).
Work has been a particular struggle for me, having quit and changed jobs so many times, partly because of the inability to tolerate my perception of what others “must” perceive about me (read: She made a mistake. She’s not perfect), which, by the way, is exhausting.
I recently took on a part-time job, and part of my duties are to review documents for the CEO before they are sent out. I basically look them over and correct anything that doesn’t sound quite right, that is misspelled, etc.
I have done an excellent job preparing these documents. I give myself credit there. But on one occasion, I sent an email to the CEO (and a couple of other employees) that had a typo and that omitted an important word. Can you IMAGINE the level of my embarrassment, given my role/tasks at the company?
The way that I realized I made the mistake was not because I had carefully reviewed the email before sending it, but because I obsessively re-read messages that I’ve already sent (at work), and I found the errors at that time. I felt the blood rush to my face. I was sure he would let me go. Others who were CC’d on the email, I reasoned, were cracking jokes at my expense and suggesting that I be fired, since I must be incompetent if I couldn’t take the time to make sure my email was correct before sending it, given my responsibilities at the company.
My anxiety went from a 0-100 in about 30 seconds. I had to get a hold of my mind. First step: I moved away from the computer. Second step: I thought about how I need to slow down and read my emails through before sending them – always. I thought about how they may not have even noticed that I made the mistake. I thought about how they might have noticed the mistake and would respond the way I was fearing. I thought about how they might have noticed the mistake and might respond by being concerned that I had made such obvious errors, but they wouldn’t take it too seriously because it wasn’t something that actually would be seen by anyone else other than those emailed (basically, it caused no harm — the email didn’t go out to the entire staff or to customers, where it might cause some embarrassment to the CEO or the company.)
If you are familiar with a mental disorder called OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), you may have guessed that, in addition to my diagnosis of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), I also have this condition. I have made INCREDIBLE progress over the years (mostly in part to a really good doctor and her CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Group), but I still have it.
When it comes to perfectionism, the OCD symptom around this, combined with the BPD symptom of black-or-white, all-or-nothing thinking, combine to cause me a great deal of distress.
Third Step: After using my DBT skill of “Describing,” I began to practice radical acceptance. I acknowledged that I had NO control over whether other people noticed my mistake, cared about it, thought about it, or how they would respond to it. The mistake was made. There was no undoing it. There was NOTHING I could do about it.
This, believe it or not, helped me to feel better. I surrendered. What other choice was there, really?
I also extended compassion to myself, reminding myself that everything has cause: from the fact that my wireless keyboard has been sticking, to the fact that I’ve been rushing my emails and not slowing down to review them before sending them out, to the fact that I was punished, abused, and neglected severely as a child when I made a mistake…there is cause for everything.
I do have to admit that I fell short of behaving in a way that was completely in alignment with my goal of feeling self-respect, because I did tell a “little” lie (I know, a lie is a lie is a lie) to make myself “look better” and less incompetent.
I emailed the people I had sent the original email and made a joke that my phone’s auto-correct could be so embarrassing sometimes, and I reiterated what I was trying to communicate in my original email.
I did this again today. I made the same type of mistake, and I blamed it on my phone. I feel a bit badly about it, but my goal was to look less incompetent, and I hope I achieved this.
My goal now, of course, is to read and re-read my emails BEFORE I send them out.
I love how practicing the skills helped me to keep from making the issue worse. I love how doing so helped me to avoid escalating and continuing the self-abusive thoughts. Most importantly, I love how practicing the skills, in this instance, helped me to avoid self-sabotaging and self-harm and to set a goal to prevent this whole thing in the future.
I hope this helped you in some way.