After the incident in which I drove my car through the garage door, a friend sent me a thoughtful email in which she shared a similar experience and wrote that it had been difficult for her to get over. After commiserating and sharing some of my insights and observations, I concluded: “I am now going to forgive myself and move on!”
This, in conjunction with my post on the subject and the comments and DMs I received in response to it, has led me to think a lot about the notion of self-compassion. I think that a big piece of processing these accidents has to do with the way that they suggest — rather forcibly — that you may not have an accurate read on who you are. For example, I consider myself a cautious, responsible person. I do not speed; contrary to Maryland convention (HA), I use my signal; I go to regular check-ups; I triple check things like plane tickets; I send reminder emails for upcoming meetings; I am responsive to email; I rarely misplace or lose items; etc. And so seeing myself as a person capable of carelessness was a jolt to the system. I have friends and loved ones who are accident-prone, or slightly spacey, or just generally a bit rough with their belongings. I love them no less for these traits, but somehow, if one of them had driven a car through the door, I might have thought: “Oh, that’s too bad, but it kind of tracks.” Seeing myself as the instigator really shook me. Am I not the person I think I am?
But no. I had to remind myself that such spiraling was unwarranted. I have a sizable track record to reference: 37 years of taking care. Zero car accidents to date. Not even a bumper scratch! (I am, in fact, an excellent parallel parker, a feat I attribute to living on R Street for several years after college.) This was an aberration, not proof positive that I have miscalculated myself for decades.
Once I’d worked my way around that mental hurdle, I found it helpful to reflect on the incident from another lens I picked up in some online reading: distinguishing between “moral faults” and “unskillfulness” at play in the situation. This disambiguation was helpful for me, as it led me away from the path of self-blame towards the realm of self-compassion. I feel that my mistake was closer to “unskillfulness” than it was to a meaty moral flaw. And so what to do but “refine my skill” — i.e., take on the practices of double checking the garage door, looking clearly in the rearview mirror, settling the children — and move forward?
I hope I have not belabored the point too much, but I share these detailed reflections with purpose because I know many of you share in my struggles with self-blame. For most of my life, whenever anything has gone wrong, I have blamed myself first, including for things I have absolutely no control over. Strangely enough, catching COVID at the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020) represented a turning point for me. I was furiously upset with myself — how could I have put my family and neighbors at risk? what else could I have done not to catch it? did I not follow an aggressive-enough protocol? A few months later, I came across a post by a total stranger in which she shared that she’d caught COVID and then let fly an angry missive implying that because other people were not taking COVID seriously, not wearing a mask, etc, she’d caught it and imperiled her health. I was flabbergasted. I saw immediately that she and I had two completely different reactions to the same situation, only I had blamed myself and she had blamed the public. It seemed to me that — and no offense to this stranger, whose reaction was perfectly earnest and valid — neither of us were processing the situation fairly. The discovery made me realize how quick I am to self-blame, and how I could just as easily have blamed the world. The truth is, probably everyone in the equation holds some manner of responsibility, but certainly I was telling myself to bear a disproportionate amount of it. Things changed after that. I have become much better at pulling myself out of that hole and attempting to assess things with a bit more objectivity. My heart always leads me toward the path of self-recrimination, but my head now has the wherewithal to say: “Hm – let’s see about that.”
I shared some of these concepts in abbreviated form on Instastory earlier this week and then asked Magpies: “What do you tell yourself when practicing self-compassion?” The answers were moving and beautiful, and I thought I’d share a few that jumped off the screen:
“Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
“What you got done today was enough.”
“God has forgiven me so I can forgive me, too.”
“Will this matter in five minutes? Five days? Five years?”
And — just for good measure, a little humor: “No one likes perfect people anyway.”
+Earlier reckonings with self-blame.
+How we got through that tough time? “It begins with a prayer.”
+A strange case of mom guilt. Comments are super fascinating on this one.
+These best-selling joggers look like heaven. I will say that when I was sick with COVID and quarantined for 22 days in my NYC apartment, I ordered a couple of higher end athleisure pieces / pajamas and I have zero regrets, including these joggers from Recliner (which are SO comfortable but I don’t think particularly flattering) and a few pairs of jammies from Lake (this is my favorite style). I also was very close to buying a set of washable silk jammies from Lunya.
+I wear this exact straw Birkin bag all the time in the summer months. It’s the perfect size, and I love the way the brown leather handle looks with my brown leather Hermes oran sandals.
+Adorable striped top for summer.
+My boy would LOVE this bubble leaf blower.
+How darling are these ruffle-trim espadrilles?!
+Speaking of pools: how chic is this inflatable pool chair?
+Hanna Andersson has a really cute children’s rain coat out.
+More al fresco dining finds here.
+Love this maxi-length floral shirtdress.
+Cutest scalloped mirror.
+These mary janes in the denim blue color are adorable.
+This Tory Burch dress is beyond chic.
+A roomy woven shopper under $30.
+Cute everyday dress for a little under $20.
+In love with these floral smocked girls’ dresses from Kidiwi. An investment, but so timeless and classic – you could pass down to multiple siblings/cousins.
+LOVE this cane clutch.