(And That's Okay)
Have you ever sincerely apologised to someone? Seriously, though. Have you actually looked them directly in the eye, openly admitted you got it wrong, and, wait for it –- are genuinely sorry. Because I have and I think it’s an unusually and deliberately vulnerable part of human connection that is significantly undervalued.
We’re scarily defensive of the built-up idea that we have of ourselves inside our heads. Our sense of humanity and core values are something sacred to us; they shape every interaction and experience we have as people. We’re geared towards answering the question of who and what we are in the grand scheme of things; what makes a ‘good’ human being and better yet, how can we become one. Finding this inner meaning and purpose motivates us and I think most of us would like to think we’re decent people. We spend our entire lives learning that it’s what’s inside that counts and, to be honest, I get why. You have to spend your entire life with yourself and if you don’t have your own back, then who will?
We’re accustomed to weeding out others’ toxic traits and misgivings and yet I think we’ve become far too comfortable in being totally blind to our own. Now I’m all for self-love but I think the relationships we foster with our identities are quickly turning sour. We let ourselves get away with falling short of our values because we’re scared of the truth. But, surely, we owe ourselves more authenticity than that. Most people would, I hope, openly admit that they’re not perfect. We know that we all make mistakes. Yet for some reason, it’s still so hard for us to take accountability for them. By opening yourself up to your failures you have to let go of the idea you have constructed of yourself. But at the point in which this idea is based on misconceptions and lies, isn’t the greatest act of self-kindness to hold yourself accountable?
Growing up I heard the phrase “you’re your own worst enemy” a lot. While I admit it’s sometimes true, I think it gives us too much credit. I think we are naturally geared towards self-preservation, and I don’t think this is a bad thing. I think it’s an important and powerful act to practise self-love, but I think it’s better still if it’s based on self-awareness. There’s a relief you feel when you’re brave enough to release yourself from your own expectations, I promise!
Have you ever wondered why in every breakup the other person is the bad guy or in every argument they’re the ones that have got it wrong? We’re hardwired to stick up for ourselves and exist too much in our own heads. These insular ways mean we fail to think about how things seem from an alternative perspective or how someone else may feel about things until it’s too late. We paint someone else out as the enemy without ever stopping to look in the mirror. When as a society we can’t even say sorry to each other, how are we ever supposed to form functionally empathetic relationships?
I personally think accountability opens a door to whole new paths of self-development that we naturally shy away from. When we successfully acknowledge where we’ve gone wrong, we not only shift the perceptions we have of ourselves, but we’re also committing to change. And humans don’t like change. An apology is nothing without changed actions and is only the first step in a whole lot of work. The bad news is, I don’t think this work goes away. We’re constantly learning and with this, we make mistakes and mess up. Change is transformative and is inevitable so you might as well embrace it and see what happens. Ultimately, by holding yourself to a higher standard, you stand a chance of being the person you’d like to think you are, rather than lying to yourself about it.
We fear the vulnerability and accountability that comes from being open about our mistakes. But really this should be at the heart of every relationship we have. We can’t expect our friends to be saints, because then we’re not opening ourselves up to real or healthy friendships. The world isn’t going to hate you for being a bit toxic, because as much as it’s horrible to admit, deep down we all are.
We need to start being better communicators to the people we care about. And this starts by realising for ourselves where we’re falling short and doing something about it. We were never supposed to be perfect and so we need to stop holding ourselves to impossible standards and ignoring the harm we’re causing. Because let’s face it. Some of those red flags you love to point out in your ex are probably hiding in your own behaviour too. Someone out there is probably just begging for you to wake up to it.
Illustration: Sarah Knight