14 Dec Why Beating Yourself Up After Making A Relationship Mistake Makes Things Worse

All of us make mistakes in our relationships. We hurt our partners. It’s inevitable. If we enjoy a healthy relationship culture, it’s rare. If our relationship is not as healthy as it could be, mistakes and hurts unfortunately happen more often.

sad man photoKnowing how to make and accept an apology is crucial for partners who really want a relationship that thrives.

But sometimes, even after an apology is made and accepted, we can’t move on. When this happens, our relationship can’t either.

It’s healthy and appropriate that when we stuff up, we feel bad about ourselves and about what we’ve done.  This feeling is called shame.

Shame feels really awful, but it does serve an important purpose and it is a normal part of being human. Being able to handle shame in a healthy way is crucial not only for our own psychological health, but for our relationship health too.

Healthy shame is known as remorse. When we are remorseful, we acknowledge our mistake and seek forgiveness from our partner. We accept that we’ve stuffed up. We have enough positive personal regard that we don’t let our mistake destroy us. We learn the lesson then allow ourselves to let that awful feeling of remorseful shame go.

I stuff up
I acknowledge it, and apologise for it
I accept my mistake, without loosing my positive self-regard
I forgive myself and let it go

If we can’t cope with shame, we obsess about our own failure. Even after apologies have been made and accepted, we stay stuck in feelings of worthlessness, guilt, self-hatred… these are feelings of toxic shame.

I stuff up
I acknowledge it, and apologise for it
I DON’T accept my mistake, because I’ve lost my positive self-regard
I DON’T forgive myself and I DON’T let it go

Toxic shame is all encompassing. It prevents us from empathising with our partner (who, after all, is the one we’ve hurt), and it prevents us both from moving on. Toxic shame contaminates happy relationships.

If you’ve stuffed up, make your apologies. If your partner is willing to offer forgiveness, be very careful about what you choose to do next.

You can continue swim around in your own toxic shame, beat yourself up, and refuse to accept that you are indeed (like the rest of us), a flawed human being who sometimes makes mistakes. If you choose this path, you can guarantee that you, and your relationship, won’t move on.

Or you can make your apology, accept your partner’s forgiveness, take the lessons from the experience, forgive yourself, and move on. This is what partners do in healthy, happy relationships.

Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. For over 20 years she has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive. Contact Pamela here.

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