This year I’ve been a part of a monthly writing group where we meet to read poems, write, and know ourselves more deeply. Each month has a theme, and this month our theme was failure.
You may have a variety of relationships with failure. They may be some areas of your life where you can easily recognize your failures and feel compassion and light heartedness for them, and for yourself.
And there may be other areas where your failures fill you with shame, guilt, and fear. These places are often the things that we care the most about – where we most want to offer our hearts, the best of ourselves.
I remember years ago a woman writing to me who was in medical school, and it really mattered how well she did – she had to pass her exams and perform at a certain level to become a doctor. She didn’t know how to be compassionate with her mistakes when her performance really mattered.
This anxiety about mistakes fed her overeating.
Her experience makes a lot of sense! For many of us, the place that matters the most to us is our relationships – including our relationship with ourselves.
It hurts our hearts when we’re harsh with ourselves, or when we overeat and harm our bodies, or when we have fractures and ruptures in our relationships.
In our writing circle, I heard something about failure in a way I hadn’t heard before. Failure means two things: first, that we tried. We took a risk, and we tried something new.
And second, that it mattered to us. It mattered enough for us to try. We cared enough to try.
This idea can help you approach your ‘failures’ and fears of failing – failures in healing, failures in work or school, failures with food or weight, failures in preventing trauma, or failures in your relationships – any failure that feels sticky and that weighs on your heart.
In my own life, this idea was a hammer that, chink, cracked my heart open. I could feel myself soften as I faced my failures in my relationships – where I, personally, have had the hardest time forgiving my mistakes.
The self perpetuating spiral of guilt and shame – the felt sense of failing short – is one of the core emotional dynamics that feeds our addictions and compulsions – whether it’s trying to be good, perfectionism, self criticism, overeating, overdoing, overworking, or overcompensating.
And we can help this guilt and shame soften a bit when we step back to see: I took a risk and tried something new. And I cared enough to try.
And I care enough to try again. And again.
May we all feel the mercy for our failures of love. And may we all trust that our failures can be repaired. They are not the last word on us, our recovery and healing, or life.