Here’s what happens when Things Change: I remember all of the mistakes I ever made, and then I personally blame myself for the fact that things need to change in the first place.
I blame myself for not having done it right the first time, for not being the perfect person for the job.
All my “failures” to do a task (either do it at all or do it correctly) make me a personal failure.
If I had just done it right the first time through, I wouldn’t be in this situation now.
The fact that things can’t continue as they are now means that I did something wrong. All my old patterns about quitting come back.
Given enough time, of course, I can find a little space for myself to remember that not all of that is true, that I am not entirely comprised of my mistakes or what an outside perspective might judge about me.
What I crave is mercy. It’s forgiveness. It’s space. I want to know that I am still worthy of love and belonging, despite my imperfections and mistakes.
Please do not reduce me to my worst self. Allow me to be born again in your eyes.
This is a facet of perfectionism, but rather than paralyzing me in the moment, it puts me into panic after the fact. It makes me desperate for just one more chance to be perfect.
It keeps me in a spiral where I’m desperately contorting myself so that I might be perfect enough to ensure my safety from criticism and vulnerability.
But what if forgiveness wasn’t about me getting another chance at perfection? What if it wasn’t like those rigged carnival games where you just keep losing money and happiness?
I had never before considered forgiveness in this way.
(In fact, the whole reason I started reading my friend’s dissertation on forgiveness is because there was this bitch I couldn’t forgive. I realized midway through that what I was really trying to reclaim was power in that relationship. I wanted to wield forgiveness like a weapon and make her suffer for the things she’d done. It was the fantasy I needed at the time.)
This paradigm of forgiveness gives space for a seeming paradox: I am worthy of love and belonging and I am imperfect.
I can start fresh because my past failures haven’t determined my eternal worth as a human being.
I can move on because I’ve given up the hope that things could have been different. I don’t need them to be different.
I can imagine myself as a person who doesn’t have to perform for acceptance.
I can imagine myself as a person who could receive (and give) something besides conditional love.
This is a hard thing to give ourselves. I think that’s why we lean so heavily on other people for this.
But it’s not up to anyone else to manage our emotional experience. I know there sometimes rifts in relationships, and it’s important to mend those, but most of the time even mending the rift doesn’t end the issue. We put ourselves in jail. And there’s only really one person who can release us.
The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
You must forgive yourself. Truly.
You must not only drop keys of forgiveness, but you must pick them up and allow a different image of yourself to come forward.
You will not be reduced to a single moment. You will not be judged for that time you had road rage, or that time you ate a whole bag of potato chips.
You are a complex human being in a dynamic relationship with yourself and your life. You make decisions based on where you are now.
There might be space for you to do things differently next time. There might be space for you to do the same things every time.
Don’t forgive yourself because you’re “supposed to.” Don’t forgive yourself so you can block out your failures and pretend they never happened.
You don’t need to put yourself in a cage.
Give yourself the space to imagine yourself as a beautiful, rowdy, complete, and wholehearted being.