Robert J Maurer Ph.D.

The Traits of Excellence

The Art and Science of Mistakes II

The most painful mistakes and how to avoid them.

Posted Oct 17, 2016

Joshua Ness /
Source: Joshua Ness /

Immune System Mistakes: Our immune system is composed of a complex set of bodily functions which work together to keep our body healthy. The immune system welcomes in the healthy substances in air, food, and water, but it must consistently resist impurities such as germs and viruses if we are to stay well. When our immune systems are weak, unhealthy substances can gain entry, causing illness. If our immune system is too strong, we go into “fight mode.” Our bodies go on the attack—creating a fever. So how does this relate to Soul Mistakes? Metaphorically speaking, we need a similarly balanced emotional immune system to remain healthy. We all require the support and encouragement of others to be well and to achieve goals that cannot be achieved alone. So, our emotional “immune system” must be equipped with the skill to let the right people into our lives, while resisting unhealthy influences. If we grew up with experiences which led us to avoid needing others, when the right people (nurturing, caring, responsible) come along, we may either be threatened by the vulnerability (our immune system is too strong) or we may work too hard to please others (our immune system is too weak).

These “immune system” weaknesses can lead to Soul Mistakes. We must at times be independent and self-reliant especially in the presence or unhealthy influences. However, if your immune system isn’t balanced and you are unaware of it, you might resist vulnerability too ardently, or bend more than you should. These responses may drive away important relationships, such as the love of your life, or family members, or friends who can be a source of support or joy. At work you may receive a promotion to lead a team, and find you are either threatened by the people who report to you or too eager to please everyone. If we are aware of this “immune system” weakness, we can work to correct it before we undo the success we worked so hard to achieve.

Emotional Blocks may lead to Soul Mistakes as well. Emotional blocks usually occur in response to childhood experiences. For example, if you grew up in a family with a depressed or raging parent whose emotions were out of control, it was a wise choice to promise yourself you would never be like your parent, never let your emotions be out of control. This promise helped you function more successfully than that parent but at a cost, creating a Soul Mistake. Relationships or interactions may trigger feelings that are unpleasant and not easily switched off. The typical feelings of sadness or anger that can arise in any relationship do not feel normal to you. You may become frightened by these feelings; afraid you may end up like the adult you swore to yourself that you would never become. Once again, becoming aware of this problem allows you to seek help and set goals to grow in this area. Not being aware, however, may lead to self-defeating efforts to avoid or contain emotions and limit our capacity for a full life, for healthy relationships.

A third category of Soul Mistakes is Not Knowing One’s Own Special Gifts. While the “immune system” and “emotional blocks” allude to possible limitations in our skills or emotional strengths that may lead to mistakes in relationships, here we talk instead about how being unaware of our strengths can lead to mistakes. Consider, for example, the person with the powerful gift of empathy. He or she can see the world through another person’s eyes…even in cases where another person is causing significant pain. You may choose a romantic partner and assume they too will be empathic. You don’t realize this is a rare, precious gift and not everyone will be able to reciprocate the understanding you can give. You may be surprised, painfully so, if your partner is not as caring and compassionate as you are.  Another gift is curiosity. You have always been curious and do not recognize this as a rare talent. You are surprised when people you care about do not show the same interest in your activities, your passions, as you are able to give them. Being aware of your own special gifts allows you to avoid being disappointed or hurt in relationships by seeking partners who share these gifts or can respect and not abuse them.

Having one of these Soul Mistakes does not doom one to failure. In fact, your relationships can grow and your successes increase if you recognize areas where one of these skills is lacking and work to strengthen it. It is the lack of awareness that give Soul Mistakes their danger. The awareness can turn Soul Mistakes into goals and allow us to take the risks that can lead to success, reaching for what we dream of achieving.

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