When is the last time you admitted to yourself that you failed at something? That, through a bit more focus, effort or energy, things would have turned out more positively? That you allowed yourself to speak from a less than Self place to another? For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare post, we’ll be adding to our previous discussion of caring for rejected parts by delving into failure—what it is, how to integrate it, and the lessons it teaches us. I’ll finish this series by analyzing how to handle setbacks (negative experiences outside of our control) in my next #GoddessingSelfCare post.
True failures occur when we had the tools needed for success but chose not to deploy them. They are genuine mistakes that didn’t “need” to happen. Our society revels in failure only to the extent that it has been conquered or fetishized; we are trained that dwelling for a time on failure in a healing manner is an unacceptable reaction to falling short of our goals. It benefits us to reassess our behaviors and work to recommit to our goals, but our inherent worth as a human is not constricted by our failings. Nothing we do makes us less than human, as hard as that is for me to accept as a trauma survivor.
Self-Forgiveness: Metabolizing Failure
What would it look like to allow ourselves to be humbled by feelings of remorse and to grieve when we’ve made a mistake, intentional or not, small or large? The guilt that is necessary for remorse is not the same as shame. Shame tells us we are less than human and unworthy. When we feel guilty and are remorseful, we acknowledge that we acted in a way that was less than our true potential and, through acts of humility, are spurred back into relationship and connection. This experience, especially if we receive ourselves with compassion, humanizes us because it nudges us to our shadow, where the rejected parts hide out. True remorse, met with compassion, are much more an inward than an outward expression; we likely agree on what “Oh, I’m sorry you feel that way” really means. Remorse without self-compassion can isolate. When we also allow ourselves to feel compassion and to then grieve, we are empowered to take restorative action.
When we are genuinely remorseful, we engage in humility. This often involves a stepping back and pausing which includes taking time to dig into what went wrong and why it happened. We may find that there is a part of ourselves that we typically reject, which expressed itself in an unhealthy way. Part of our healing involves taking better care of that part. Alternatively, we may discover that our mistake was the result of an assumption we made, bumbling into an area where we were less informed that we thought we were. In this case, humility includes acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and don’t know everything, and then taking the time to educate ourselves on the issue at hand. Finally, we may be pushing ourselves too hard overall; our mistake may be the simple result of a lack of sleep, too much caffeine, or rushing through something. Here an overall pause to reassess our level of self-care is needed. Humility admits that, when we try to keep ten plates spinning at all times, it’s pretty likely at least one of them will come crashing down at some point. In any of these situations, it is on us to do the challenging inner work. It is especially not an act of humility to turn to another, if we’ve wronged them, and expect them to tell us what we did wrong, why it happened, and how to improve ourselves. That’s on us.
Self-compassion in the face of guilt and grief is a part of the process that I see as vital. It strips away the layer of our excuses and reasons and meets us in the place of our pain. For me, this practice involves spending time in meditation, experiencing the love and healing Goddess offers. This allows me to know that my mistakes do not diminish my humanity nor do they cut me off from relationship with self and others. The felt sense of being loved just as I am is a powerful tonic.
Grief only comes when we feel the harm we’ve caused to ourselves or to another. Thus, it requires empathy. For me, it tends to come before self-compassion if my action was directed at another, and after self-compassion if it was an internal failing. Grief involves glimpsing the action that conveyed dehumanization and injury, as well as the effect of the action. By doing so, we are moved to a place of sorrow and a “feeling in” to what was wrought. Grief and self-compassion must operate in tandem, otherwise we will move to shame and stay stuck.
Reconciliation with Those We’ve Wronged
Those we’ve harmed, if our mistake went beyond impacting us alone, are doubly injured if we expect them to walk us through this process. Instead, we do well to turn to our support system, to Goddess and to our Inner Being to provide a safe space to work out our emotions. We can then, from a place of self-forgiveness, offer to make amends and to heal the interpersonal rupture. How different would the world be if we each took some time to do our inner work instead of expecting each other to do it for us, and if we attempted to engage with each other after we’ve integrated the experience? Note though that I do want to leave room for individual differences—for example, those who are highly extroverted may need to check in at various points in the process.
Receiving compassion from another after we’ve failed them is an act of grace—desirable but not guaranteed. Our self-forgiveness is not contingent on their acceptance of our sincere apologies or of the actions we take toward reconciliation. Self-forgiveness that misses one or more of the steps I’ve included is often hollow and will reveal itself as such when the actions to which we dedicated ourselves somehow fail to materialize, or when we are quick to “slip up” and slow to accept responsibility.
Failing at a Personal Goal
Failure may also come in the form of falling short of meeting a goal we set for ourselves. Perhaps we procrastinated or gave into our impulses or responded reflexively. In these situations, it is possible that a guilt, humility, grief and self-compassion process needs to take place. It is equally likely that our goal, not our effort, set us up for disappointment. External goals that appear “successful” but to which we hold little inner allegiance tend to evaporate. I think one vital question if you believe you’ve failed at something is to ask yourself whether it was something you truly wanted or if you’d in fact been working for someone else’s vision or version of yourself. We harm ourselves when we reject our bodies and our minds for “letting us down” when in fact we were either unable or uninvested in an image that wasn’t drawn by us. Things we believe we “should” do are much less impactful when we fail at them than things we feel compelled by our Inner Being to do.
Future Growth: The Possibility In Failure
If we allow our failings to become “real” to us, rather than denying or excusing them away, we open the door to potential growth. It is very difficult to know the limits of our development until we see where it falls short. When this happens, if we go inward and thoroughly process our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, as well as educate ourselves in our areas where we lack understanding, we may not only improve our relationship with ourselves and with others, we also enable ourselves to set goals that are both meaningful and challenging. Having a touchstone of “this is what happened when I didn’t take X seriously” as a motivation point for a skillset we are looking to build may not be sufficient to propel us to success in life, but it is certainly a stronger incentive than “I’m doing this to fit in.” I believe that as we age, we look back not so much in regret of where we went off-course, but moreso on where we had an opportunity and didn’t want to do the internal excavation necessary to take it.
Where have you experienced failure? How have you responded to it? What has your inner work revealed?
© 2018 All rights Reserved. Suzanne Tidewater, Goddesing From the Heart.