Obsessing about a mistake

Obsessing about a mistake
We hate making mistakes at work but they happen. You can learn to deal with your fears.

The other day, I made a major mistake at work. After an initial fuss, the boss was okay about it. The trouble is I can’t get it out of my head. I’m exhausted and fear I’m falling apart.

Making this mistake triggered your feelings of incompetence. You fear that you are not good enough. You think you might lose your job, your security, and your self-belief.

Different people have different triggers. Some people fear not being socially adept, others fear they are not good parents and some, like you, fear they are not fully capable in their job.

Most of us believe, deep down, that we are not good enough. In fact, much of our everyday behaviour is driven by our need to prove our worth. Our frantic actions scream out: “I am good enough and I’ll prove it to you!”

Most of the time, we manage to avoid facing our fear. We organise our lives to avoid our trigger points. We meet our deadlines and skirt around possible confrontations. This way, we keep our self-belief intact. If someone does push our buttons, we become defensive. Sometimes we lie rather than face our fears.

For once, your avoidance strategies failed. Whatever you did could not be hidden. Now that it is out in the open, you feel ashamed and diminished.

Your obsession with this mistake is taking over your life. At one level you realise this is not logical. The boss has forgiven you. He or she knows that you are not perfect. Obviously, you have talents that are worthwhile. The boss still believes in you.

The mistake has happened. It’s over. All you have now is a memory. This memory, and the meaning you give it, is causing you all this pain.

To regain your equanimity, you need to take the sting out of the memory. The best way to do this is to find a quiet place where you feel safe and devote some time to calm reflection.

When you are ready, go back to the moment you made your mistake. Most likely an image flashes into your mind, followed by a flood of guilt and shame. Usually, you would push the image away. But not this time.

Be brave enough now to stay with the image, and with your uncomfortable feelings. Breathe slowly and deeply as you let your emotions arise. Instead of being afraid, accept them. It is normal to have these feelings. They will not last.

You might find a memory arises, from the past, probably from your childhood – a time when you made a mistake. Allow yourself to experience this past situation. It brings important information. You may discover why you were obsessing so much. Some insecurities lie deep within.

Some people find an unknown image arises with a story attached. If this happens, explore it. Certain stories resonate with us and bring with them a deeper understanding of ourselves and what matters to us.

Release any emotions attached to these past or novel scenarios.

Now, remember the recent mistake. Notice how you feel, remembering what happened before, during and after the mistake. Realise that you did not know then what you know now. If you had, you would have acted differently. But how could you have known what you did not know? Like everyone else, you learn most effectively through experience. Now you know enough to avoid this mistake in future.

Each time you think of this incident, remind yourself that no one is perfect and you are allowed to make mistakes. If you still obsess, revisit the memories, gathering more information, until you find all emotion and anxiety has dissipated and you remain calm.

Struggling with your mental health? North Brisbane Psychologists can help. Book an appointment today!