Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mistakes Make us Vulnerable

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."

- Albert Einstein

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick
Who among us likes to make mistakes? I dare say that even the most highly evolved among us would not relish the thought of making a mistake.
Although mistakes have led to many great inventions, are a necessary part of growth and change, and assures us that we are card carrying members of the human race, making a mistake brings unmistakable discomfort. 


“Have no fear of perfection- you'll never reach it."

- Salvador Dali


Depending on our personality style, the discomfort that we experience as a result of making a mistake may last minutes, days, weeks, months or even years.  

Of course, the severity of our reactions to our blunders may also be influenced by the personal or professional costs that come about from these moments of imperfection.   

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Mistakes large or small may bring feelings of vulnerability and in some cases shame. Unlike primary emotions (i.e. surprise, interest, joy, anger, sadness, fear and disgust), which are present within the first 6 month of life, shame is considered a "self-conscious" emotion These "self-conscious" emotions are present only after we have developed the cognitive ability to evaluate ourselves.

The emotion of shame is present sometime around the second year of life.  Shame has been described as a very intense emotion that causes pain.  This feeling of shame causes us to want to hide or disappear.

It tends to occur when we have compared our actions to the standards and rules we have for our behavior and judged ourselves a failures.   We  then further connect this perceived failure in one situation to an overall self label of failure.

A close cousin of shame, called "evaluative embarrassment" doesn't pack the same emotional punch as shame but nonetheless causes a definite sense of discomfort.


For Mental Health Information

The presence of these strong or uncomfortable emotions may, in part, explain why we tend to avoid making a  mistake.

While our instincts may be to hide our failings, in the digital age, it may be near impossible.  Once published, our
mistakes take on a life of their own and we may be forced to confront those mistakes over and over again. 


 "If we all hold on to the mistake, we can't see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can't see what we're capable of being." 

 - Maya Angelou

The good news!

Taking responsibility for and owning up to our mistakes, managing our tendencies towards perfectionism, forgiveness of our imperfections, and managing the ways that we think about successes and failures can help us cope with what is the inevitability of making mistakes.


See more on self- conscious emotions:


Lewis , M. (2007).  Early emotional development. In A. Slater & M. Lewis (Eds.), Introduction to Infant Development  (pp. 216-232).  New York: Oxford Press


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