Making mistakes is inevitable. Most people also wrestle with the fear of making mistakes. Sometimes the embarrassment or shame from your mistakes (real or feared), can be overwhelming – leaving you to feel stuck, unable to move forward. So, you may wonder: How can I break free of my paralysis?
If you have ever watched young children, the secret was right there in front of your eyes. They are almost constantly faced with new challenges because the world is so new to them. You can see it even in toddlers as they take their first steps away from their mothers. Repeatedly, they tentatively move forward, only to look back before they continue on. In those brief moments, they reassure themselves that their mother is there (she’s got their back) and they absorb their mother’s loving attention. When they fall, their mother quickly scoops them up and soothes their cries, again reassuring them that they are okay and she loves them. Then they toddle on.
What you can learn from this scenario is that children are able to venture out into a new and overwhelming world by staying connected with their mother, a source of comfort and reassurance that they are okay. Although children look for this reassurance less often as they mature, they do continue to seek it out. In fact, healthy adults can also strengthen themselves in the face of challenging circumstances by seeking out support and reassurance.
I’m not suggesting that you take your mother with you wherever you go. For one thing, she may not be a supportive person who imbues you with a sense that no matter what, you are good and lovable. And for another, people would rightfully laugh with disbelief. But, unlike that toddler, you can consciously choose to summon support whenever you want and from whomever you choose.
If you feel paralyzed at the thought of a challenge you’d like to meet or feel immobilized by a recent failure, try the following:
Bring to mind someone whom you think of as a loving, supportive person. It can be your mother, but it can also be almost anyone else: alive or dead; real or fictional. The idea is that you choose someone who you can imagine as being wise and compassionate toward you. Among the infinite possibilities are: your father, aunt, friend, Jesus, Buddha, Yoda, or a wise and loving version of yourself.
Enrich the image you hold by using your senses. For instance: See the person, noting their smile or the color of their eyes. Listen to the sound of their voice. Note the smell of their hair or the environment you are in (such as the salty smell of the beach). Feel the warmth of their touch as they clasp your shoulder or give you a hug.
Imagining that they know everything there is to know about you, consider how they would respond to your current thoughts, feelings, and actions. You are a human being, which by definition means that you have weaknesses and flaws, and that you make mistakes. These do not define you as a person or make you any less worthy. A loving, supportive person would see these vulnerabilities in the context of also seeing your strengths and of valuing you as a whole person. They would feel warmly and compassionately toward you. By communicating this to you, if you are open to the message, you will feel supported and emboldened. You might also be more encouraging toward yourself as you face challenges, and respond more positively toward yourself when faced with setbacks or failures.
This supportive image is a powerful resource that you can call upon at any time. The more vivid the image and the more often you call upon it, the more powerful it will become. With its support, you can harness your inner strength to tackle difficult challenges and recover from painful setbacks.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness