Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When Our Mistakes Become Who We Are

“Just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you are a mistake.” - Georgette Mosbacher

A few days ago I had an interesting conversation with a lady I met through a friend. She was telling me about her failed marriage, and said that after many years of enduring verbal and emotional abuse she finally decided to count her losses and leave.

It took her so long, she said, because her children were young and she was afraid of not being able to financially weather the separation. She had gone to college before meeting her husband, and had dropped out when she had become pregnant with her first daughter. After that, she had been a stay-at-home mom, and her children had been the light of her existence. She stated that being a mom had been the only thing she knew how to do.

I looked at her in surprise – certainly there has to be something else she is good at and likes to do. When I told her that, her eyes filled with tears. She said that no matter how hard she tries she is a failure by nature. That chilled my blood. Her husband had pointed out her mistakes so often that she had come to believe she could do nothing right. She believed she is the mistake.

After being exposed so long to the verbal attacks, her mind had looked for a reason to justify the abuse, and had come to accept that she deserves it somehow. She felt incapable, unattractive and helpless, regardless of the fact that she is a beautiful and skilled woman.

As we delved deeper into the conversation, she volunteered a little more information – her father had also been quite verbally abusive. She knew he always loved her but had never really accepted that she was different than he.

Her wounds had been patiently etched into the core of her self-worth over time, and at the hands of multiple people. There was a pattern at work here, and I wondered if she was even aware of it. By assuming that her father was right in his criticism – after all he loved her and wouldn’t lie to her, would he? – she had come to accept that she was unworthy of his love. Feeling subconsciously guilty of causing her father unneeded grief, she had sought to continue the punishment he had “lovingly” inflicted on her by marrying a man who was similar to him.

When I pointed out the similarity, she was genuinely surprised and oddly recharged. She asked if I made mistakes often, to which I could only smile - If mistakes were a monetary fund I could easily be set for retirement. Yet, learning from my mistakes has led me to be the person I am today, and I wouldn’t change them for anything.

Mistakes don’t define our character but rather display the mechanisms we use in response to challenges. Someone once said that the worst mistake is our fear of making mistakes, as being afraid to fail will prevents us from trying. Actions can be a mistake, not people. I hope that someday she will be strong enough to see that.

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