Welcome to this week’s In Therapy post!
I usually have a clear idea of what I’m going to write about well before I sit down and write (usually a week before I post). This week I wasn’t sure. Until Wednesday morning when I was triggered in a big way by something I did. In summary, I made a mistake, and this led to an array of feelings that I had to work through.
This is what happened…
Back in December I booked a test and used an ID document that I thought was a valid one for it. I got to the test centre and was told that I would have to re-book as that document wasn’t valid for this test.
My first feeling when the lady was telling me this was of disappointment in myself as well as embarrassment at such an oversight. As I left, without completing my test and hoping my phone would still have some charge to talk to my husband or facebook peeps for moral support, other feelings started arising inside of me.
So my phone decided to shut down, I was all on my own for at least an hour or so. Alone with my thoughts and feelings….
On the train journey back, I felt depressed and ashamed. It cost me a bit of money and time, so that brought up anger too. I was mentally punishing myself and critiquing myself so strongly, that I caught myself after 20min of sulking and self-deprecating self-talk.
When I say I caught myself, I mean I realise what I was telling myself with my thoughts and my bodily reactions of anger and general eek-iness. So I told myself what I would tell anyone else, especially my counselling clients, and what I’ve been writing about here: work through it! let those feelings come up and do what they need to do, however awkward and awful they feel.
So, I did. I continued to sulk. Continued to be angry, depressed, ashamed, embarrassed and self-criticising. Another 20 minutes passed and suddenly reason started to kick in. My more rational mind started talking to my emotional – valid – reactions.
I started telling myself that yes, you made a mistake, but think about it. What’s the worst thing that has come out of it? (apart from feeling all those things I’ve described, of course). So, I thought, ok the worst thing that has actually happened is that I lost the money for the train fare and the test, and will have to pay them again when I re-book and go back to take the test. It delays my application for which I need this test done and dusted, but I’m in no real rush so not a massive problem. Also, it is a pain to have to rebook it and make the journey again, but then I will have done it right and learned from my mistake, and can move on with my life!
What else has happened that’s worth you punishing yourself like this?
Erm, I thought…nothing much actually! Nobody else knows what happened, nobody else needs to know, and if they know surely they will be supportive and understanding – possibly more supportive and understanding than you have been to yourself the last 40 minutes! The lady that told me I’d made the mistake sees so many people every hour that I am a vague memory – if that! – and I don’t think she will remember me next time I come back, and if she does, well I can joke about it with her at the very least!
Then I started thinking what good things I got out of my outing. I was quite happy travelling to the city where my test was booked. It was a little bit of time to myself, self-care of sorts – me with my thoughts and just wandering around a place I hardly go to. Enjoying my surroundings and my own company. Oh! I also found a nice little place – it had a lovely name, and it was a mix of restaurant/pub/cocktail bar which I loved! Had a cuppa there before my test, and I am pretty sure I am going to go back once I pass this test in a couple of weeks for a well-deserved cocktail!
To sum up, my whole day was a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences, some which were enjoyable, some that weren’t but that led me to make the best out of a bad situation.
I have a reason to be telling you this story, and now I want to tell you what I learned today that I can pass on to you:
- Honour your feelings – all feelings are valid. Many of them might not be very nice to contend with or endure for long, but working through them will help clear the emotional air and allow you to move forward and see the positives in what might seem like a mostly negative situation at the start of the ordeal.
- Work through your feelings and get to the other side – getting stuck with feelings that are left unprocessed might make us either mentally or physically ill (our mental energy will want to come out one way or another, and the brain is very clever in negotiating alternatives, like back pain, headaches and other mental or physical ailments)
- There is at least one positive to every negative situation. Take the time to find it. – I didn’t get to thinking about the positives of my day until after I’d worked through my anger and shame and self-critique.
- Some situations might take longer than a train journey to work through. It might take a few weeks, or even months, but with the right support – from family, friends or a mental health professional like myself – you will get to the other side and get back to feeling good about yourself and even about the situation itself!
- Growth comes from unexpected places. – I wasn’t expecting to go through this emotional journey during my train journey home, but here we are, and it will possibly benefit you, my readers.
I hope my story and what I learned will help you when struggling with self-criticism and punishing yourself when you make a mistake, no matter how big or little. If there is anything you want to say about this, you can leave a comment below or you can message me via the contact form.
My colleague, Josephine Hughes, has written a post on how to identify and soothe our inner critic, which complements what I’ve written above very well. I recommend you head over to her site and read it as well as watching her video on the same topic.