Dave gets upset when his partner points out his past mistakes. Recently, he began thinking about those errors differently—he started accepting mistakes as part of being human. This shift in mindset, Dave says, has taken away much of the sting when someone reminds him of his wrongdoings.
Renee tends to be forgetful. She knows her absentmindedness is a problem. However, she doesn’t want people, especially her husband, to point it out. While she’s working on becoming more mindful, she’s discovered that accepting her deficiencies helps her be less self-protective.
Most of us would like to pretend that we don’t make mistakes or have flaws. Furthermore, we hope others don’t notice, and if they do, we certainly don’t want them to say anything about them. We’re likely to get defensive when reminded that we’re not perfect.
What mistake, flaw, or weaknesses are you sensitive about? Some shameful behavior from your past? A personal trait that’s unchangeable, like your height or age? Or is it a personality characteristic that is stubbornly difficult to alter, despite your best efforts?
The mere mention of these may send us into a defensive, self-protecting, self-justifying mode. The problem with our defensiveness, however, is it’s unpleasant to be around. Those nearby will feel like they’re walking on eggshells, taking great care to avoid the topic—and our reaction.
Our boss may be trying to coach us into better performance. Or our partner may want us to know something that would make our relationship more harmonious. But our push-back reduces their motivation to raise these concerns in the future, while we miss a learning opportunity.
We can’t rewrite history
Getting defensive about past errors is unnecessary. We can’t change the past—it’s part of our history—but it doesn’t define who we are. We are not the sum of our worst actions. It also doesn’t mean we’ll repeat that blunder in the future. Accepting mistakes frees us from focusing on our regret while opening us to learning and moving forward in a positive way.
Early in their relationship, Dave was unfaithful to his partner. Sometimes, his partner talks about that time, still processing the hurt they felt. Dave used to fly into a rage, reminding his partner that he’s apologized and has been true ever since. Why can’t his partner let it go and move on, he wondered.
His new way of thinking—accepting mistakes—allows him simply reply with compassion for his partner. “Yes, I was a fool. I’m sorry I hurt you that way.” The mention of his past no longer upsets him, and he focuses on constructive things he can do to build their relationship.
Accepting the unchangeable
Personal traits are another area where embracing reality does us good. We can get braces to straighten our teeth or have cosmetic surgery to change the shape of our nose. Mostly, however, how we look is determined by our genes before we were born. Accepting yourself is an important step toward being kind to yourself, stopping self-judgment and condemnation.
Even personality traits, like Renee’s forgetfulness, usually take a lot of time and effort for us to change. If it’s something that is holding us back, it’s worthy of our attention. However, remembering that transformation is a slow process keeps us from reacting poorly when we have an inevitable relapse.
Before, Renee could easily descend into a huff if her husband asked her an innocent question like, “Did you bring the grocery list?” The question reminded her that she’d left it at home. Mostly, it reminded her that she tends to be forgetful—that irritating trait she’d been working on.
By switching her thinking and accepting mistakes that happen out of her absentmindedness, the situation loses its power. Everyone makes mistakes and forgets stuff. Even though she seems to overlook more things than most people, she has many other great character qualities.
As she’s practiced accepting mistakes, she finds she is less upset when she does mess up. She no longer has a powerful urge to berate herself or stop someone from drawing attention to her flaws. Reduced stress, greater peace, and an improved relationship with her husband followed.
If you’re looking for an example of someone who is great at accepting mistakes from you and me, consider God. He knows all our slipups, lapses, and missteps, including the times we fall short with misguided thoughts or lousy attitudes. Still, he loves us. Nothing we have done can separate us from his love.
We’ll never meet a person whose grace compares to God’s. It’s unearned and undeserved, yet freely given. Because God is perfect and we are not, we count on God’s grace so we can have a relationship with him.
As we experience God’s grace in our lives, it becomes easier to have more grace for others—and ourselves. That sets us free to stop defending, denying, minimizing, or blaming others for our mistakes. Instead, we can rest in his grace, share God’s love with those around us, and focus on becoming the person he created us to be.
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