The other day, a coworker of mine said something that offended someone else we work with. He’s a nice person, he apologized immediately, and his apology was accepted.

Now, nobody goes through life without offending anybody, ever, and I told him he should let it go. He didn’t want to forgive himself for it, though.

Sometimes we think that if we feel guilty for a long time, that means we’re a good person. I don’t think it works that way at all.

When we go into a shame spiral, we keep telling ourselves things like, “I’m so stupid,” “I’m such a screwup,” and so on. We reinforce a negative image of ourselves. Because we’re focused on ourselves and programming ourselves for failure, we become more likely to make mistakes…which will lead to more shame. And that negative self-image will hold us back in so many ways.



Guilt and Depression

I’ve written before about my recovery from serious depression. In the course of getting better, I figured out that most of my depression was triggered by feelings of shame. If I forgot something or I messed something up, I felt worthless.

I forgot a meeting? I’d think, “I should kill myself.” Ridiculous. As if my coworkers at my funeral would stand around saying, “It’s a shame, but then again, she did miss staff. It was the only honorable thing to do.”

I had to come up with new responses to my mistakes and failures. Instead of thinking terrible things, I’d force myself to think something like, “Well, that was an easy mistake to make.” And then I’d listen to a Beyoncé song or go get a latte.

If you struggle with depression, shame and guilt are luxuries you cannot afford.

Lessons Learned

Can you still learn your lesson if you don’t feel bad for a long time? Absolutely.

In my planner, I have a section called “Lessons Learned.” When I mess up — or when things just go badly in general, for avoidable reasons — I do what I can to fix it, and I write down the lesson I learned.

While I’m at it, I read over some of the other lessons I’ve written down in the past, to remind myself of them. Some of them are easy to forget — even if I felt really bad at the time! For me, at least, a written record is actually a better teacher than feeling awful.

Anyway, once I’ve fixed things the best I can and I’ve written down the lesson, the episode is done. I’ve closed the loop, and I carry on with my life.

If you flagellate yourself for your mistakes and shortcomings, I want to suggest to you that you can stop doing it…and you deserve better.

We all make mistakes, and it does suck. But it’ll suck a lot less if we don’t lug around the heavy weight of guilt.

I’m sure a lot of my readers have found ways to be more forgiving of themselves and to avoid mentally beating themselves up. I’d love to hear about it in the comments! Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful week!